Thursday, March 24, 2005

Public debate against Robert Balling

The following is the text of Damien's opening speech against climate skeptic Robert Balling. The debate will occur tonight at 7:30PM (pacific time) at the opening ceremony of the National Debate Tournament on the campus of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.

The climate crisis has failed to make a dent in the public consciousness of most Americans. Health care, terrorism, and the budget deficit regularly outrank a changing climate in lists of public concerns. While these issues, and others, are undoubtedly important, the stakes of the climate crisis are arguably just as great or greater—but, the public debate on this issue is being systematically distorted by powerful interests. These distortions undermine the very basis for democracy which must rely on an informed citizenry.

Like any good debater, I would first like to lay out a few definitions—something I learned to do debating in a high school in Alabama. Systematic is “carried on using step-by-step procedures, purposefully regular; methodical.” Distortion is a “statement that twists fact; a misrepresentation.”

Some level of distortion may be inevitable in any debate where the stakes are large and the vested interests powerful. That the oil and gas industry are actively engaged in protecting their own interests is so obvious as to be virtually undebatable, and their influence on climate science is well-documented. Equally, the alarmism of many mainstream environmental organizations could also be accused of distorting public debate through fear. I would like to carve out a middle ground between these two extremes and focus on what I perceive to be the most pernicious, and under-covered, distortion of the climate debate: the suppression of climate information by the government and the manipulation of language by certain pollsters.

The White House, for the past five years, has suppressed government reports on climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency has three times been the target of political manipulation. In September 2002, the White House simply removed an entire section on climate change from the EPA’s annual air pollution report. Then, in the summer of 2003, the EPA issued a tentative report on the state of the environment. The sections on climate were edited by the White House to delete factual information and insert references to a discredited study by the American Petroleum Institute that were skeptical of rising temperatures. Ultimately, the EPA decided to remove any reference to climate in this report rather than compromise its’ scientific integrity. Finally, the EPA was asked by John McCain and Joe Lieberman to assess the effects on carbon dioxide emission from their proposed legislation. The EPA declined, saying it’s scientists had been prohibited from releasing or analyzing data about carbon dioxide. This led Lieberman, who is not exactly a radical lefty, to say “this is an administration that lets its politics and ideology overwhelm and stifle scientific fact." The public is the real loser, because they are denied information that might encourage them to consider the risks of the climate crisis more seriously.

Overt manipulation is easier to spot then the covert distortion of language that is Frank Luntz’s stock in trade. In 2001, Frank Luntz, a conservative pollster, sent a memo to Republicans in Congress detailing ways to neutralize the global warming debate. He acknowledges that quote “the scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science.” Luntz recommended several key rhetorical strategies in order to stall action on the climate crisis. First, Luntz said skeptics should say “climate change” instead of “global warming.” The term “global warming” has “catastrophic connotations attached to it,” whereas “climate change” suggests a “more controllable and less emotional challenge.” By portraying climate change as innocuous—like moving from “Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale”—any urgency to act is dispelled. Luntz apparently has taken a lesson from Orwell, but not exactly in the way that the inventor of the term “doublespeak” intended. Secondly, Luntz suggests that congress members tell stories rather than the truth. Luntz claims that quote “a compelling story, even if factually incorrect, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth.” While this might be true, such a suggestion is a poor guide for public policy and a prescription for lying to protect the interests politicians serve. As a consequence, the public has been delivered a series of human interest stories about how certain congresspeople are “conservationists” and “sincere in their care for the environment” instead of an examination of the facts of the climate crisis.

The strategies of the White House and Luntz are amplified by the media. In their quest for journalistic objectivity, the media often reports “both sides of the story,” neglecting to indicate that there is overwhelming scientific consensus for those who believe climate change is occurring. What they ought to do instead is note in the final paragraph of a newspaper article that there is some dissent about the scientific consensus by a small group of scientists with many links to the fossil fuel lobby. The skeptics on climate science are like baseball fans on the first and third baselines at Yankee Stadium—they have great seats, but many of their tickets were paid for by ExxonMobil and they are still in the vast minority of spectators.

I thank the organizers of this public debate, Glen Frappier and Gordon Mitchell, as well as Dr. Balling and the National Debate Tournament, for providing an opportunity to discuss these issues. In the spirit of continuing the debate after it has ended here tonight, I would direct you to for a substantiation of many of my claims. Public debate is a crucial means by which citizens can influence the deliberative process of opinion and policy making. This is precisely why the distortion of the public debate on the climate crisis is so appalling.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Politicizing the IPCC

As we put the final touches on the arguments for the public debate with Robert Balling, I am trying to make sense of the recent resignation of hurricane scientist, Chris Landsea, from the IPCC. I have read several accounts of the reasons for resignation, including Landsea's public announcement, and it seems to me that his main problem was that the IPCC was using the media to amplify the link between hurricanes and global warming. A skeptic himself, Landsea disagreed with the fact that his research was being used to support the hurricane claim. First, doesn't this disagreement seem to suggest that Landsea's research DID support the claim, but that he was trying to suppress the information? Second, this whole controversy seems more like an interpersonal clash between Landsea and Dr. Kevin Trenberth, not a reason to condemn the entire IPCC body. Finally, doesn't the fact that there are skeptics working within the IPCC severely deflate the skeptics arguments against the IPCC?

The most reason buzz about the upcoming IPCC report is mostly that IPCC members are becoming too politicized, and risk their objective standpoint. This was made clear in some recent articles which detailed IPCC chair, Rajendra Pachauri's recent public statements that we should institute policies to reduce emissions. Critics claim that such statements go beyond the prescribed role as an honest broker and politicize the IPCC. I admittedly don't know all of the details of the formation of the IPCC, but it seems to be that it would be very difficult for everyone of the scientists to remain politically neutral all of the time. As long as the science drives the politics instead of the politics driving the science, I don't see what the fuss is about.


Monday, March 21, 2005

A petition from the other side...

From the Union of Concerned Scientists, another example of distortion!

Fiction: There is no scientific consensus on climate change. Just look at the 19,000 scientists who signed on to the Global Warming Petition Project.

Fact: In the spring of 1998, mailboxes of US scientists flooded with packet from the "Global Warming Petition Project," including a reprint of a Wall Street Journal op-ed "Science has spoken: Global Warming Is a Myth," a copy of a faux scientific article claiming that "increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have no deleterious effects upon global climate," a short letter signed by past-president National Academy of Sciences, Frederick Seitz, and a short petition calling for the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that a reduction in carbon dioxide "would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind." The sponsor, little-known Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, tried to beguile unsuspecting scientists into believing that this packet had originated from the National Academy of the Sciences, both by referencing Seitz's past involvement with the NAS and with an article formatted to look as if it was a published article in the Academy's Proceedings, which it was not. The NAS quickly distanced itself from the petition project, issuing a statement saying, "the petition does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the Academy." The petition project was a deliberate attempt to mislead scientists and to rally them in an attempt to undermine support for the Kyoto Protocol. The petition was not based on a review of the science of global climate change, nor were its signers experts in the field of climate science. In fact, the only criterion for signing the petition was a bachelor's degree in science. The petition resurfaced in early 2001 in an renewed attempt to undermine international climate treaty negotiations.


Small steps towards a common goal

Despite all of the discouragement researching the climate debate has brought about, it's nice to run across efforts by like-minded advocates who are really trying to make a difference. Interestingly, there is a new climate activist group that utilizes some of the effective language that Damien and I have been discussing ("climate crisis" vs. climate change, for example).

Ross Gelbspan recently wrote an article for Grist Magazine, asking readers to take individual action by signing the Climate Crisis Coalition's new petition, Kyoto and Beyond: The People's Ratification of the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty. As of now, there are 14646 signatures, with more electronic signatures pouring in everyday.

* Not to discourage a like-minded project, but as I looked over the petition website, I couldn't help but think about our dinner conversation the other night about environmental organizations that gather information on participants. This petition requires signers to give a first and last name, address, and email address in order to participate.


Backing the IPCC

I’m becoming more and more convinced that climate advocates can concede that climate models are not perfect and still win the debate. Acknowledging that past IPCC reports have been slightly off in their predictions does not belittle the overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue. The continued support (from qualified sources) for the IPCC conclusions is undeniable. For example, in October 2003, more than 1,000 scientists from around the nation signed the State of Climate Science letter confirming that the major findings of the 2001 IPCC report were accurate and continue to reflect scientific consensus on the issue. Here are the main claims in the letter:

1) Anthropogenic climate change, driven by emissions of greenhouse gases, is already under way and likely responsible for most of the observed warming over the last 50 years—warming that has produced the highest temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere during at least the past 1,000 years;

2) Over the course of this century, the Earth is expected to warm an additional 2.5 to 10.5 °F, depending on future emissions levels and on the climate sensitivity—a sustained global rate of change exceeding any in the last 10,000 years;

3) Temperature increases in most areas of the United States are expected to be considerably higher than these global means because of our nation's northerly location and large average distance from the oceans;

4) Even under mid-range emissions assumptions, the projected warming could cause substantial impacts in different regions of the U.S., including an increased likelihood of heavy and extreme precipitation events, exacerbated drought, and sea level rise;

5) Almost all plausible emissions scenarios result in projected temperatures that continue to increase well beyond the end of this century; and,

6) Due to the long lifetimes of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the longer emissions increase, the faster they will ultimately have to be decreased in order to avoid dangerous interference with the climate system.

Consensus like that is pretty tough for skeptics to poke holes in, try as they may.


Consensus and Media Objectivity

The Naomi Oreskes article in Science is amazing:

The American Meteorological Society (6), the American Geophysical Union (7),
and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) all have
issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human
modification of climate is compelling (8). The drafting of such reports and statements involves many opportunities for comment, criticism, and revision, and it is not likely that they would diverge greatly from the opinions of the societies' members. Nevertheless, they might downplay legitimate dissenting opinions. That hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals
between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords
"climate change" (9). The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the
papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

The response has been undeafening. My short tour through responses has found not a single disagreement with her central claim; or, rather, disagreement, but not a counter-example of peer reviewed climate science skepticism. Yikes.

And Chris Mooney has a nice piece about how media objectivity is distorting the debate on science policy.


Friday, March 18, 2005

More on Rove / Bush Disdain for the EPA

More digging, and found this interesting report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Here's an amazing narrative:

In May 2002, President Bush expressed disdain for a State Department
report5 to the United Nations that pointed to a clear human role in the
accumulation of heat-trapping gases and detailed the likely negative
consequences of climate change; the president called it “a report put out by the
bureaucracy.”6 In September 2002, the administration removed a section on
climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) annual air
pollution report,7 even though the climate issue had been discussed in the
report in each of the preceding five years.
Then, in one well-documented case, the Bush administration blatantly tampered with the integrity of scientific analysis at a federal agency when, in June 2003, the White House tried to make a series of changes to the EPA’s draft Report on the
Environment.8 A front-page article in the New York Times broke the news
that White House officials tried to force the EPA to substantially alter the
report’s section on climate change. The EPA report, which referenced the NAS
review and other studies, stated that human activity is contributing
significantly to climate change.9
Interviews with current and former EPA staff, as well as an internal EPA memo reviewed for this report, revealed that the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget demanded major amendments including:

The deletion of a temperature record covering 1,000 years in order to, according to the EPA memo, emphasize “a recent, limited analysis [that] supports the administration’s favored message.”10
The removal of any reference to the NAS review—requested by the White House itself—that confirmed human activity is contributing to climate change.11
The insertion of a reference to a discredited study of temperature records funded in part by the American Petroleum Institute.12
The elimination of the summary statement—noncontroversial within the science community that studies climate change—that “climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment.”13

According to the internal EPA memo, White House officials demanded so many qualifying words such as “potentially” and “may” that the result would have been to insert “uncertainty...where there is essentially none.”14
In a political environment described by now-departed EPA
Administrator Christine Todd Whitman as “brutal,”15 the entire section on
climate change was ultimately deleted from the version released for public
According to internal EPA documents and interviews with EPA researchers,
the agency staff chose this path rather than compromising their credibility by
misrepresenting the scientific consensus.17 Doing otherwise, as one current,
high-ranking EPA official puts it, would “poorly represent the science and
ultimately undermine the credibility of the EPA and the White House.”18

Rov(e)ing into the Climate Debate

I had forgotten some of the political manipulations of EPA reports on global warming. In 2003, the EPA issued a report on the state of the environment. However, the report underwent serious editing by the White House that removed sections suggesting that emissions from automobiles and smokestacks were contributing to the climate crisis and that there would be serious public health and environmental consequences. The White House overruled the scientists at the EPA that had studied the matter. Eventually, Christine Todd Whitman was so fed up that she deleted the section on global warming altogether. We should check out her book _It's My Party Too_ where she talks about the obsession amongst some White House advisers to do away with all environmental regulations.

Does Karl Rove have a degree in climatology?


Karl Rove as a Debater

From James Moore and Wayne Slater, Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2003), 118-119.

Debaters kept their arguments on 3 X 5 cards, which they carried about in
shoeboxes or metal containers. Rove had the most impressive collection of debate
cards at Olympus High. If his teammates had a shoebox filled with the cards,
Rove carried two, which he plunked down on the table in an ominous display of

By his senior year, the arsenal had swelled to 5 or 10 boxes. Rove figured that if two or three boxes unnerved an opposing team, why not something truly overwhelming? Why not a table full of cards? Why not buy them by the thousands and wheel them in on hand-carts? Why not throw the fear of God into the enemy before the debate even began?

The thing was, the thing nobody knew was, that the cards were mostly fake.

"We went out and bought thousands, if not tens of thousands, of debate cards," says debate partner Emil Langeland, now a lawyer in Salt Lake City.

"Everybody was using 3 X 5 cards. And we decided we'd better have 4 X 6 - a little bigger than the next guy. And we had shoeboxes, a table full. We would come in and set up those boxes with file cards in them, color-coded, with tabs sticking up, and
there were literally thousands and thousands of them. And you know what? There
wasn't a thing on 99 percent of them.

"If they gave us a 4 X 4 table, we'd make it a 4 X 8 table and we'd stack this information - what appeared to be information - on the table. We'd lay out all these papers. The reality was that the core of our attack or strategy was on 20 or 30 cards. We never used much more than that. But we'd just hand truck them in, then go back out into the hall and hand truck another set in and set them up on the table almost to the point where you couldn't see us. It was all psychological, to psych out your

Rove didn't just want to win, he wanted his opponents destroyed. His worldview was clear even then: There was his team and the other team, and he would make the other team pay. He would defeat them, slaughter them, and humiliate them. He would win by any means, but he would win.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Common sense connections

One area I explored a bit when writing my common sense paper was making climate policy appeal to the “average” person/consumer. An angle for our memo is to articulate how global warming will impact individuals, as well as giving them tips for how they can make a change, even if they aren't a politician making big decisions over Kyoto and the like. Here are a couple of articles with ideas on that front:

1) “I Feel Hot and Cold (Can’t explain)” from Ask Umbra, an advice column on the Grist magazine website. Reader writes in for advice on how to communicate the impacts of global warming and how it will affect the everyday lives of the “average person” to his significant other in a straightforward manner. Umbra’s answer had suggestions for two other cites, and Also suggests that we are beginning to see the impacts of global warming, but that people in the US will not be the ones to be affected by the consequences (so, in fact, the “average person” is not a US citizen or citizen of a first world country—it will be people in the developing world that will be the hardest hit). Interesting snippet from the response:
Our motivation to care about climate change is limited only by our capacity to care for others. You're living in Michigan. Your weather might get a bit strange, but rising sea levels won't wash away your house. You probably aren't a farmer, so you won't have to worry about your crops. You'll still be able to buy food and pay for heat.

2) “40 Easy Steps to Reduce Your Contribution to Climate Change”, from the Ecologist. Stresses that there are things that individual consumers can do to make a difference-- 20 % of emissions of CO2 comes from energy use in homes and 25 % comes from cars. The article also lists out a variety of suggestions for around the home, for travel, and for shopping. Specific recommendations include turning down your thermostat (for every 1 degree C, you can decrease your heating bill by 10%).

These resources remind me of some of the texts I ran across when I was doing my original research for Common Sense class. Books like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Global Warming by Michael Tennesen and the many children's books that address the issue (which I am very keen to look into further, when time permits) make me think that there are efforts being made to connect with a wider audience. The real question is: why aren't they working? I think there is something to the idea that books and manuals designed to help the individual consumer fight global warming will only really appeal to concerned citizens who actively seek them out. In other words, the average American who is not aware of the global warming debate has no incentive now to seek out these texts. Is our climate memo going to follow a similar fate? Maybe, maybe not. It's true that our original memo will probably only be picked up by concerned citizens seeking out ways to communicate their feelings more effectively. Yet our project has the potential to reach wider audiences in the long term, in that 1) the changes that those concerned citizens make after reading our memo will have a broad impact and 2) as gas prices go up, the oil peak gets nearer, and our resources become more and more overstretched, a larger portion of the population will become concerned with these issues by necessity. Let's just hope it isn't too late.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Affordable Energy

I was saying in the run up to Election 2004 that if gas prices around Pittsburgh were at $2.00 a gallon on November 2nd, John Kerry would win. They were around $1.89.

I continue to think that one of the keys to persuasion in the energy policy / climate crisis debate is to thematize affordable energy for consumers. The root of the climate crisis is consumption of fossil fuels--and opening up the door for an effective climate policy necessitates a shift in the current patterns of this consumption. An "Apollo Project"-type approach is needed to massively ramp up alternative fuel sources. A basis for this shift exists: oil and natural gas have seen massive price spikes over the past year or so. If Kerry had emphasized the necessity of affordable energy, I believe he might have won. In my estimation, I think that he 1) noted the high energy prices too rarely and 2) subsequently railed against drilling in ANWR or Bush's energy bill. What he didn't do is put forward much of a positive plan--or frame, as Lakoff might say--for what he believed in.

I don't mean to be too Kerry-centric here. But, since he's the going punching bag for what went wrong in 2004, well...there are lessons to be learned. Interestingly, there is a new report out by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund that outlines the benefits of a robust plan to research and develop alternative energy. They suggest mandating a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard which would require all electricity generators to obtain 20% of their energy from renewables as well as shifting the subsidies that the fossil fuel industry currently secures towards renewables research and development.

Here's what I would like someone focused on climate change to talk about:

--Affordable energy should be a governmental priority. Middle and working class people--not to mention seniors--are squeezed the hardest by high energy bills. This is the big, positive vision. The supplemental material supporting this core value ranks a little lower; as a catch phrase, though, "affordable energy" ought to be prominent in communicating ideas. Put alternatively, the current energy mix that relies on fossil fuels costs consumers money (consumers would save almost $30 billion a year under the PIRG plan).

--Making energy affordable again is part of bringing America into the 21st century. Using technologies developed in the 19th century is no way to provide economic security for the 21st century. In addition to emphasizing affordable energy, advocates must emphasize that an investment in renewable energy is an investment in new, well-paying jobs: the PIRG study suggests such a program would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

--More affordable energy is an achievable goal--if governmental priorities were better. A shift in subsidies would activate America's "can-do" spirit of innovation and problem-solving. However, this approach means not letting the fossil fuel lobby write energy legislation. This means not providing subsidies amounting to $20 billion per year to the coal, oil, and gas industries just because they have powerful lobbies in Washington. Advocates must remind the public that these industries are getting subsidies even as they are posting record profits.

--Emphasize the benefits of self-reliance vs. foreign reliance. This is the one argument that John Kerry made well and that was also received well. Localizing energy production in the United States will rebound positively to our economy, whereas foreign reliance sustains others' economies.

Those are some preliminary thoughts on how to make "affordable energy" a centerpiece of an argumentative strategy.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

Knowing our values and framing the debate

Much has been written about Frank Luntz recently, particularly in terms of his entanglements in the social security debate. In fact, there is a whole website dedicated to decoding "luntzspeak" and pointing out instances where conservative politicians have deployed the advice offered up in Luntz's memo. Yet many articles compare Luntz and his mastery of language with George Lakoff, a University of California Berkeley linguist who is said to have done for the left what Luntz has done for the right. Even though Lakoff's new book, Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, focuses more broadly on progressive politics (it briefly mentions environmental issues), I couldn't help but read it and keep some of the kernels of wisdom in mind for our intervention. Here are parallels that might be useful in guiding our project (page numbers in parentheses):

  • Conservatives and progressives have different world views. The conservative world view parallels the work of Dobson-- the strict father idea. The progressive world view is the nuturant parent world view, with values such as empathy, responsibility, freedom, opportunity, prosperity, fairness, 2-way communication, cooperation, and community-building (11-13)
  • Conservatives are not stupid. They have found ways to activate frames through media, think tanks, etc and understand how people think (17)
  • Polls are used quite differently by conservatives and progressives. The GOP takes them into consideration but acts on their idealistic beliefs. Liberals use polls as evidence that they need to move to the center (20). This is quite interesting in light of the way that polls were used in the Luntz memo
  • Lakoff does mention Luntz on global warming specificially. He believes that this is an example of Orwellian language that proves the weakness of the conservative position (in this case, that the science on global warming is conclusive). This includes use of words like healthy, clean and safe (22)
  • hypocognition= the lack of ideas you need, the lack of a relatively simple fixed frame that can be evoked by a word or two (24). This is precisely the problem our project hopes to fix for concerned citizens looking for a way to clarify the global warming debate.
  • Lakoff also uses the example of alternative energy subsidies to show how progressives can expand their policy proposals to appeal to a large number of people. Instead of simply framing alternative energy as an energy or sustainability issue, Lakoff suggests that it could also be described as a jobs issue, a health issue, a foreign policy issue, a development issue, etc (31)
  • Finally, Lakoff explains why framing ideas is not the same as propaganda. He says that framing is natural and normal as a means of comprehending complex issues. This is fine as a clarifying function-- it is only harmful when spin occurs (the manipulative use of a frame) (100).

Don't Think of an Elephant, is of course, a guide for progressives, but there are many valuable lessons within the book. In the end, the guide falls back on four important guidelines: show respect, respond by reframing, think and talk at the level of values, and say what you believe (119). These concepts don't just apply to progressives. If anyone, regardless of political affiliation, committed to similar guidelines, policy debates would be much clearer and easier for public engagement.

This discussion was helpful for me, because Damien and I have talked through ways to avoid further distorting the debate with our project, and ways to avoid partisan conflict. After thinking through our project in terms of framing the debate, as Lakoff suggests, I'm convinced that our goal is not to spin the issues for global warming advocates (as Luntz did for the Bush administration). Instead, we are attempting to make a clarifying move that will aid effective communication for concerned citizens.

- Carly

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Climate blog beginnings...

The purpose of this blog is to track our progress as we work towards the creation of a climate memo, designed to reconcile some of the current distortions occuring in public debate on climate policy. Part of our inspiration for this project was based on our reactions to a memo created by conservative pollster Frank Luntz. Over the course of the intervention, we will post updates on various reactions, feedback, and new directions.