Why Climate Change Is Controversial — or Is It?

My article at ThomasNet last week generated some controversy — see “All This Wrangling Over Climate Change – What’s Up With That?” Commenters on multiple ideological sides of the debate chimed in with comments — passionate but civil, for the most part.

Some readers were frustrated with me because I took a more or less neutral stance. Not that I have no opinions about climate change. It’s just that my purpose in this case is to try to shed some light on the controversy as a controversy. Here is a key excerpt:

Grappling on the global-warming battlefield are two parties in a high-stakes political conflict: On the extreme ends of the global warming controversy, believers accuse skeptics of pushing “free-market fundamentalism”; skeptics accuse believers of pushing “eco-socialism.”

According to one narrative, market fundamentalists and corporate interests are funding an intentionally-deceptive propaganda campaign against the concept of human-caused global warming to keep business free from regulatory interference…

According to the opposing narrative, communism has reformulated itself as a leftist environmental movement bent on establishing a world government and destroying free-market capitalism.

This is my second article in a series on climate change. The previous one examined research into public perceptions of the issue — see “Does the Public Really Believe Humans Are Causing Climate Change?

AB — 9 August 2011

Green Malls, SUVs, and Mansions? What’s Up With That?

Tracey Schelmetic at ThomasNet Green & Clean today throws some much-needed cold water in the face of affluent consumers who think they are helping the environment by driving a hybrid SUV or building a 5,000-square-foot “green” house:

The Ford Escape Hybrid, considered the most fuel efficient hybrid SUV on the market, gets about 32 mpg combined. This is about the same as a Toyota Yaris with a traditional engine, and far below the efficiency of a Honda Civic Hybrid, which gets 42 mpg combined.

She also takes a swipe at Whole Foods, along with some comments that will please Trader Joe’s fans:

Sitting in opposition to Whole Foods is more environmentally minded chain Trader Joe’s, a company preferred by many eco-minded shoppers. Keeping an eye on the most important factor in a green business – building size – Trader Joe’s operates out of far smaller buildings. Stores tend to average between 8,000 and 12,000 square feet, compared to Whole Foods average store size of 50,000 to 80,000 square feet. Trader Joe’s also pledged to eliminate all GM foods from its shelves in 2001, and by next year will sell no seafood products that are not sustainably sourced.

AB — 2 August 2011

Vancouver Going for “Greenest City”

Future Vancouver street sceneOver at ThomasNet Green & Clean, I wrote earlier this week about Vancouver, B.C.’s bid to become the world’s “greenest city” — see “Friendly Competition – Vancouver’s Bid to Become the World’s Greenest City.” In an interview, Vancouver City Councillor David Cadman gave me an inside view of the effort. Although the city definitely wants to become the greenest on the planet, there’s a friendly side to the competition:

Cadman tells me that “simply being a green city in one place like Vancouver isn’t enough. We have to take this plan and challenge a whole lot of cities to beat us, to move this challenge out beyond Vancouver to the rest of the world.”

He thinks cities are in a good position to incubate environmental innovation:

Cadman believes cities are well-suited to serve as sources of environmental innovation. Whereas “national governments don’t seem to be able to get their act together” to move forward on green initiatives, he tells me, “local governments are transforming the world around them.”

AB — 29 July 2011

El Hierro – Isolated Island a Great Demo of Renewable Energy

Over at ThomasNet Green & Clean this week, I wrote about efforts by El Hierro, the most remote of the Canary Islands, to become completely self-sufficient and wholly reliant on renewable energy — see “El Hierro — How an Island Can Serve as a Model for Renewable Energy.”

Some of the most interesting commentary I found on the El Hierro project has to do with the value of the island’s remoteness. One researcher writes that, when it comes to connecting with any outside electric grid, “[The island] is totally isolated, as the significant sea depths make any interconnection impossible.” Yet the island has a population of 11,000 and a significant economy.

The R&D director for the Canary Institute of Technology says that,

Islands can play a very important role as pioneers of the energy revolution… The island as a whole can serve as an experiment not only for this particular energy combination, but also for other types of energy-related issues like mobility, like efficient transport solutions… Examples like El Hierro will prove technologically that this is possible.

AB — 20 July 2011

How to Talk About Climate Change

The aspect of the climate change controversy (and other issues in public discourse) that intrigues me most of all is the ability of people on opposite sides to talk past each other. I say it intrigues me, but it also saddens me in a sense, as I value dialogue, engagement, and listening.

Partisan rhetoric seems designed to paint the other side as extremist and wicked. The rhetor seems willing to present an argument in a one-sided, deceptive manner so as to influence public sentiment and achieve a political agenda.

In the wrangling over climate change, the parties throw around terms like “anti-science,” “hoax,” “deniers,” “pseudo-science,” junk science,” and “anti-business,” trigger words that demonize the other side.

So I enjoyed reading Will J. Grant and Rod Lamberts’ post today over at The Conversation, “Who’s afraid of big, bad coal? Al Gore’s ‘climate reality’ is a pointless fairytale.” Grant and Lamberts’ post is a commentary on Gore’s new Climate Reality Project. They acknowledge that Gore’s project is “the kind of campaign that will do a lot for those who want to do something about climate change,” but feel that it will do “little for anyone else.” Their question is, “Where is the mechanism here that will finally get the unconverted or the hostile to agree with the need to take action on climate change?”

What most interested me was their criticism of Gore’s promotional video, in which he accuses “Big Oil” and “Big Coal” of evil manipulations. This is ridiculous, Grant and Lamberts write:

Those who got into the coal and oil industries did so for the simple goal of making a profit by providing us with the energy we need for the modern economy. They didn’t do it to be evil. They don’t want to destroy the world. They are not the nefarious oligarchs that so many would have you believe.

Yes, we now know that the carbon pollution produced by the coal and oil industries is a big problem for society. We all need to wean ourselves off such carbon intensive energy.

But we’re not going to do it by misrepresenting people’s intentions and calling them names. We’re not going to do it by punishing people who acted in good faith.

We’re only going to convince people to change by lining up their profit motive with everyone’s need for a low-carbon economy.

Seems like the kind of open, refreshing approach that can lead to actual dialogue over critical issues.

AB — 19 July 2011

Rob Hopkins Response to Criticism of Environmentalism

My article this week at ThomasNet Green & Clean was on the fascinating, fast-growing Transition movement — see “The Transition Movement – Preparing for a World After Peak Oil.”

The “green movement” that seemed so powerful and dynamic just a couple of years ago has come under criticism recently, as you can see in Susanna Rustin’s recent article in the Guardian — see “Has the green movement lost its way?

Coincidentally, the Transition Network just concluded its 2011 conference in Liverpool. Co-founder Rob Hopkins wrote up his reflections on the conference in a blog post yesterday, and included a response to Rustin’s question:

An article in the Guardian last week asked “has the green movement lost its way?” I think that is the wrong question. The right question should be “has a new, emergent culture which embraces resilience and localisation, equity and partnership, even scratched the surface of its potential?” I think the answer is a resolute no. We’ve all had a taste of that this weekend.

Having written a great deal about innovation as analyst for the ILO Institute, insights like this get my attention. Innovations often come from unexpected quarters, when people begin asking new questions and asking questions in a different way.

AB — 12 July 2011

When Green Gets Silly — Solar Bikinis and Eco-Bottles

Solar bikiniA long time ago, I stopped telling people that I write about “green” issues (now I say “environmental”), because of just the sort of silliness David Sims highlights in today’s article at ThomasNet Green & Clean, “Green Products We Don’t Need — Solar Bikinis? Eco-Plastic Bottles?

Sims writes,

Somehow we don’t think surveying a garbage dump’s worth of Poland Spring plastic water bottles with 30 percent less plastic and paper warms the hearts of diehard greenies. It’s a bit like marketing Big Macs to vegetarians by saying they’re now 30 percent soybean and only 70 percent meat.

AB — 1 July 2011

Integrating Wind and Solar Energy: German Virtual Power Plant Shows How to Do It

German Combined Power PlantOver at ThomasNet Green & Clean today, I’ve written about a groundbreaking pilot project called the Combined Power Plant. See the article, “German Combined Power Plant Demonstrates Real-Time Integration of Renewables.”

What these scientists are doing is using networking technology to integrate 36 separate solar, wind, and biogas installations into one “virtual power plant.” Combining multiple sources like this allows them to balance out the various sources, solving a key problem in the integration of renewables into the electric grid.

AB — 27 June 2011

So, are cell phones really destroying the bees?

That’s what you might think from reading a recent headline, says David Sims, writing for ThomasNet Green & Clean — see “Are Cell Phones Killing Off Bees?

Sims was alerted to an article with the headline, “It’s Official – Cell Phones are Killing Bees.” Sounds pretty definitive, right? Sound science must have finally proven it, right?

Not so much. Drilling down into the sources, Sims finds that,

Favre himself [the researcher] concluded the study did not show that mobile phones were deadly for bees. The most he’d commit himself to was a hypothesis that electromagnetic fields “might be contributing to the disappearance of bee colonies.”

So, whither the bold headline ‘It’s Official’? I think the answer is that science journalism, like most journalism today, has to grab eyeballs, so journalists are motivated to write sensational headlines to attract readership. As a result, all kinds of nonsensical assertions are promoted as “fact” and “proven” when such is far from the truth — see “How the Media ‘Inform’ People What Science Has ‘Proven.’

Unfortunately, many readers don’t get past the headlines.

AB — 19 June 2011