Required reading

Posted November 8th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Category 5 Spin

Is the press trying to instigate a fight among Democrats? This is going somewhat off topic for this blog to the broader context of science and policy but I’m afraid this will get buried when it needs to instead be nipped in the bud. Via Media Matters, read what Bill Clinton said (in a speech to the American Postal Workers Union), and you tell me if he said or even implied that Hillary was getting “swiftboated” by other Democrats – which is how it was widely reported. Then read it again, for what he actually said:

PRESIDENT CLINTON: [T]he point I’m here to make to you is whoever you’re for, this is a really big election. We saw what happened the last seven years when we made decisions in elections based on trivial matters. When we listened to people make snide comments about whether Vice President [Al] Gore was too stiff. When they made dishonest claims about the things that he said that he’d done in his life. When that scandalous Swift boat ad was run against Senator [John] Kerry [D-MA].

When there was an ad that defeated [former Sen.] Max Cleland [D] in Georgia — a man that left half his body in Vietnam. And a guy that had several deferments ran an ad with Max Cleland’s picture with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, because he dared to vote against the president’s version of the Homeland Security bill.

Most Americans still don’t know the truth. The president was against the Homeland Security bill for eight and a half months. And [former White House senior adviser] Karl Rove told him they were going to lose the 2002 elections unless the American people were scared about terror again. So, they decided to be for a bill they’d opposed — and they put a poison pill in it.

That bill was designed by the president to take the job rights away from 170,000 federal employees that had no access to secure information, no access to secure technology, no business being treated like CIA agents. Look, we need to be able to fire CIA agents without going through a long process in the public, right? … But we don’t need to treat secretaries at FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] that way. I mean, the whole thing was a scam.

So Max Cleland said, “I didn’t go to Vietnam and leave one arm and two legs to come home and hold my job by stripping the job rights from 170,000 good, hard-working Americans. I won’t do it. So they put an ad on comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Why am I saying this?

Because, I had the feeling, at the end of that last debate, we were about to get into cutesy land again. “Ya’ll raise your hand if you’re for illegal immigrants getting driver’s licenses.” So, we’ll then let the Republicans run an ad saying, “All the Democrats are against the rule of law.”

I don’t — look, I think it’s fine to discuss immigration. We should. Illegal immigration needs to be discussed, and it’s fine for Hillary and all these other guys to be asked about Governor Spitzer’s plan — but not in 30 seconds, yes, no, raise your hand. This is a complicated issue. This is a complicated issue.

So, do I hope you’ll vote for my wife? You bet I do. It’d be good for America and good for the world. But, more than that, I came here to tell you today: Don’t you dare let them take this election away from you. This belongs to you and to your children — and to the future of America.

Don’t be diverted. Don’t be divided. Our best days are still ahead, claim them. Thank you.

Then go to Media Matters and read the whole post. To his credit, even Bill O’Reilly didn’t believe it and didn’t report it because he couldn’t find where Bill said such a thing. Nonetheless, asked to respond to Bill Clinton’s “charge” that they had engaged in “swiftboating,” Obama was stunned. Dodd was outraged. Democrats: please, please, please, question such questions before answering them.

To bring this back to science and policy, consider what is at stake in the next election. It may be the blogs that take back our post-normal public discourse.

Convenient excuses

Posted October 24th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Category 5 Spin

More background on the situation in Atlanta in this NYT article. As I suspected, the release of water for endangered species is a convenient excuse for failure to conserve water, even after a drought has been declared:

With a public anxious over the possibility of running out of water, the corps has not been the only entity to shoulder blame.

On Oct. 1, Stone Mountain Park began to make snow for a winter mountain, hoping to attract children who had not seen the real thing. The mountain was planned during the very wet summer of 2005, and the state and local governments were duly informed, said Christine Parker, a spokeswoman for the park.

The state announced a Level 4 drought response on a Friday and, after park officials reviewed the list of exceptions for businesses, snow-blowing began the following Monday, before much of the public had fully grasped the severity of the situation. After the project was ridiculed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the park shut it down. Ms. Parker said that only then did the park hear from state environmental authorities.

And as I suspected, a cover up for a more complex state of affairs. Via watercrunch – Alabama begs to differ on the amount of water and sees other motives:

Georgia has repeatedly framed its request as a contest between people in the Atlanta area and endangered mussels in Florida. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality the action that Georgia seeks will have dire consequences on people and their livelihoods downstream in Alabama.

Georgia ignores the fact that the Farley Nuclear Plant sits on the banks of the Chattahoochee River and requires cooling water from the Chattahoochee…The lack of adequate cooling water could require a shutdown of the plant, putting the reliability of the electric power grid in the region at risk….

What the State of Georgia is seeking from you is a unilateral transfer of decision-making authority over the water in the federal reservoir at Lake Lanier from federal to Georgia control. that reservoir was built with federal taxpayer dollars for certain congressionally authorized purposes, which did not include the Atlanta area water supply. While Alabama understands the needs of residents in Atlanta, we cannot stand idly by and allow Georgia to take control of the water in that reservoir to the detriment of the people who live and work downstream in Alabama…

…Alabama is not willing to cede unilateral control of waters in the Chattahoochee River Basin to the State of Georgia.

Between a hoax and a catastrophe

Posted October 9th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Category 5 Spin, The Lomborg

The Lomborg, now brought to you by the Washington Post, still claims to be in the mythical middle ground, somewhere in between claims of climate change as catastrophe and hoax where he is looking to have “a sensible conversation” with honesty “about the shortcomings and costs of climate policies, as well as benefits.” He could start by making honest and sensible arguments himself and perhaps by acknowledging and responding to his critics, but then he might not get space on the front page of the Outlook section in the Sunday Post – or on the Colbert Report. But at least Stephen nailed him (video link) – as much as could be done in the few minutes in which he appeared on the show. Meanwhile the Post continues to demonstrate why we should all be more skeptical about what we read in the papers.
I just took another look at details about expected sea level rise in the IPCC report, which Lomborg clearly misrepresents, but see this post by Joseph Romm, who has already taken the time to sort it out – in that and in 3 earlier posts he links to. It would be nice if Lomborg included references for statements that seem like they are pulled either out of context or out of thin air itself, i.e., on what basis does he make the claim that the dramatic increase in Greenland’s melting seems transitory? And who exactly is “scoffing” that the IPCC severely underestimated the rate at which glaciers are melting? But even suppose Lomborg were right in selecting an average value for expected mean sea level rise from what is clearly a conservative estimate for reasons that have to do with the scientific process – such as a reluctance to quantify processes not yet sufficiently understood, like the speed of ice flow at outlet glaciers and ice streams that have changed more rapidly than expected. What is of concern from a policy perspective are the impacts of Sea Level Rise for which average values aren’t very helpful because they are driven by extreme but normally occurring events. As stated in the IPCC Technical Summary:

The greatest climate- and weather-related impacts of sea level are due to extremes on time scales of days and hours, associated with tropical cyclones and mid-latitude storms. Low atmospheric pressure and high winds produce large local sea level excursions called ‘storm surges,’ which are especially serious when they occur with high tide. Changes in the frequency of occurrence of these extreme sea levels  are affected both by changes in mean sea level and in the meteorological phenomena causing the extremes.

For more on scientific reticence, see this paper (pdf) by James Hansen and stay tuned for my review of Chris Mooney’s book, Stormworld.
What I find particularly annoying are Lomborg’s repeated accusations and mischaracterizations of the views of unnamed environmental groups or just plain “people.” Environmental organizations and individual advocates, and scientists who also “want to put out the fire” are quite a diverse bunch who, unlike Lomborg – or Luntz, or even Nordhaus and Shellenburger, can disagree with each other in a number of ways without setting themselves apart from and attacking all “environmental groups” and who have been trying to have an honest and sensible conversation about how best to address the climate crisis in time to avoid a catastrophe. This conversation is hardly limited to the costs and benefits of the Kyoto Protocol. Addressed in a smart way, investments in reducing carbon emissions could have numerous other benefits – e.g., see: Barack Obama’s energy plan, or Al Gore’s call for a Global Marshall Plan (UN webcast – Al Gore’s remarks don’t start until approximately minute 35) which calls for addressing the climate crisis in ways that also fight poverty. Regarding costs and benefits, see also this post here on PNT by Paul Baer on The worth of an Ice Sheet – which makes the case that to determine what an ice-sheet is worth, we have to first determine what will be required to actually save it and what the trade-offs would actually be. Thanks to the Lomborgs and the Luntzs of the world, that conversation has barely begun. Given that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet is beyond anyone’s practical experience, any insistence that the costs are large relative to the benefits is pure hubris.
Update: Joe Romm dug up another paper and provides more details on the increase in ice discharge from Greenland outlet glaciers and changes in ice flow speed that have been observed. It also appears to be the paper Lomborg relied on to claim that “the Kangerlussuaq glacier is inconveniently growing.” But that is hardly what the paper says. But go read Joe Romm’s post. The Washington Post needs to publish some corrections.
2nd update: The Washington Post has not published corrections but they did publish an excellent rebuttal by Judith Curry, which should have been on the front page of the Sunday Outlook section, but at least it’s in print. Hat tip again to Joe Romm.

The Lomborg – nailed

Posted September 12th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Category 5 Spin, The Lomborg

I had access to a high speed connection today so, in follow-up to the last post, here is the video clip of Stephen Colbert nailing The Lomborg: