Birthers and Climate Denial

Over at Dot Earth, Andy Revkin engages in some hippie punching. (I’m being facetious–that’s David Roberts’ favorite term for anyone who criticizes progressives on climate politics and policy.) Here’s Revkin making an equivalence between “Birthers” and a segment of the climate community that remains stuck in its own echo chamber:

It’s easy to forget that there’s been plenty of climate denial to go around. It took a decade for those seeking a rising price on carbon dioxide emissions as a means to transform American and global energy norms to realize that a price sufficient to drive the change was a political impossibility.

As a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, even when greenhouse-gas emissions caps were put in place, trade with unregulated countries simply shifted the brunt of the emissions elsewhere.

You mean political progressives can be in denial about inconvenient facts, too? C’mon Andy, how is that being helpful to the cause?

24 Responses to “Birthers and Climate Denial”

  1. grypo says:

    Alternate reality.
    Oh yeah, progressives should have predicted that they’d be able to pass a cap and trade bill in the House but due to recent political factors (republican insanity), they wouldn’t get full support from 60 vote mandatory Senate.  Boy what’s wrong with them?
    Oh and it totally throws them that other countries can emit C02 without worldwide agreement.  That must be why they nothing like Kyoto protocol was ever attempted.  And of course this totally ignores the west’s reality that CO2 accumulates and it will be while before we can start blaming other countries for the real CO2 level.  Yeah Revkin really makes some great points here.

  2. Marlowe Johnson says:

    First, I think Andy is engaging in a bit of historical revisionism and exagerating the initial prospects that cap and trade legislation had in the political process.  While the reasons that Waxman-Markey failed are legion (the recession being the big one IMO), I think many analysts would take exception with the idea that it was doomed to fail from the start.
    More to the point — and this is where I take greatest exception to TBI — there is no reason to think that an alternative, equally effective, approach could have passed in its stead.  While I think that Romm and some others exagerate the impact that TBI played in the ACEA’s downfall, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that their efforts had an impact.
    In this respect I think that it’s fair to say that ‘hippie-bashing’ has consequences. In the spirit of free and democratic debate I’m prepared to accept that trade-off.  I’d suggest that this committment, which is broadly shared on the left, is one of the reasons that Republicans have been much more effective in pursuing their policy agenda.  If the Dems practiced the same discipline that Reagan “never criticize a Republican” suggested, things might look quite different these days.
    Revkin is also engaging in a bit of vague strawman bashing.  No one thought that getting federal C&T legislation through would be a walk in the park.  Moreover, no one was suggesting setting the cap in the early years at a price that would have a dramatic effect on emissions (e.g. > $30/tCO2e).
    p.s. a great presentation on ’embedded’ carbon and international flows can be found at the Global Carbon Project (see slide 13)

  3. Keith Kloor says:


    All fair and arguable points you make.

  4. PDA says:

    The stretch here is impressive. First, “political impossibility” is not the same thing as a literal impossibility: had you asked me ten years ago if a Black Man would sit in the White House in my lifetime, I might have said “impossible!” However, no matter how much they wish and hope and march and campaign, birthers will never get baby Barack to climb back into Marilyn’s womb and return to Kenya where he belongs. That is an impossibility.
    It’s a sign of monomania to see equivalencies everywhere. “My God, this traffic is slow.” “Slow? You know what’s slow? Those political progressives: slow to wake up and smell the coffee about their unrealistic policies! BAHAHAHAHAHA!”
    Oh, and go Bruins.

  5. grypo says:

    I bet 10 years ago progressives would have never predicted the Bruins would finally toss off the Canadian curse.  What a bunch of idiots!

  6. Tom Gray says:

    from teh article
    trade with unregulated countries simply shifted the brunt of the emissionselsewhere.

    And they thought that this observation was novel enough to be published in a prestigious journal?????

  7. kdk33 says:

    Birthers and climate denial – that’s a reach.

    I mean, we already have the tobacco disinformation compaign – climate disinformation compaign equivalence (the same sinister actors in both plays, according to some).

    Obama smokes.

    Just sayin’

  8. NewYorkJ says:

    Cap and trade legislation passes the House for the first time and falls a few votes short of 60 in the Senate, while California moves forward with cap and trade with strong approval from the people is a “political impossibility”?  Please.  To the Pielkians (of which Revkin is one) and many others opposed to meaningful emissions reductions, perhaps it is.  It seems just a way for them to stifle debate.  “Don’t even talk about cap and trade because it’s impossible…and I’m doing everything I can to make people think that”.

  9. Dean says:

    “trade with unregulated countries simply shifted the brunt of the emissions”
    I don’t think that political progressives were in denial about this. The question has always been: if the US leads, will others follow? Denial about this in general is more common with conservatives than progressives. Since the US has not lead, others have had an easy excuse to do nothing. That doesn’t mean that they would do something lacking that excuse, but that hope is what has driven many advocates of strong US action.

  10. Sashka says:

    Could someone explain why tax-and-dividend is a political impossibility?

  11. kdk33 says:

    “if the US leads, will others follow?”

    Which leads to the counter-factual:  if only we had, then others would have too.

    But many (myself included) think this rationale is just silly.  It’s a competitive world.  If we hamstring our economy, that will inspire others to a) follow suite, b) exploit their newfound advantage.  Choosing ‘a’ is denying reality, IMO.

  12. PDA says:

    kdk33 Says:
    April 28th, 2011 at 5:09 pm
    the counter-factual:  if only we had, then others would have too. But many (myself included) think this rationale is just silly.
    Dean Says:
    April 28th, 2011 at 4:20 pm
    others have had an easy excuse to do nothing. That doesn’t mean that they would do something lacking that excuse…
    Governments have, in the past, entered into international agreements to limit pollution, declining to exploit a competitive advantage. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that they might do so again.

  13. Jeff Norris says:

    Is that hope/ belief that if the U.S. leads others will follow limited only to economic issues or does it cover political and moral issues also? 

  14. kdk33 says:


    It wasn’t directly on your link, but with some googling…  Looks like that treaty covers SOx, NOx, and VOC’s.  I don’t think limiting those pollutants can be compared to limiting CO2.

    So, fair enough, countries have sometimes delined to exploit a small economic advantage when the incentive to do so is large.  But CO2 is the reverse: the economic advantage is large and the incentive unclear.

    I don’t buy the if-we-lead-others-will-follow argument for CO2.  I see risk that if we lead we grow poor while others point and laugh.  This lack of a realistic global decarbonization strategy factors into my position that our best strategy is, for now, to do nothing.  (Actually doing nothing isn’t correct because we are improving technology, our understanding of the climate risk, and accumulating wealth – all of these matter.)

    What this has to do with birthing I’m not sure. 

  15. Jeff Norris says:

    I agree that governments can come together on numerous issues but the reality  is that most action is on paper only with numerous exceptions, exemptions and little if any penalties.
    As an example it would seem that Spain has been in non compliance since 1999 on reducing VOC levels. No worries though last year the UNECE said.

    “˜The Executive Body strongly urged Spain to fulfil its obligations under the Protocol as soon as possible.’

  16. harrywr2 says:

    NewYorkJ Says:
    “April 28th, 2011 at 3:16 pm Cap and trade legislation passes the House for the first time and falls a few votes short of 60 in the Senate, while California moves forward with cap and trade with strong approval from the people is a “political impossibility”? ”
    California is a low energy consumption state, it’s a function of moderate weather and the nature of Californian Industry.
    EIA per capita energy consumption by state.
    The US average per capita energy consumption is 326 MBtu/yr. California per Capita energy consumption is 229 MBtu/yr.
    Wyoming per capita energy consumption is 1,016/MBtu.
    Wyoming only gets 1 vote in the House of Representatives but they get 2 votes in the Senate.
    At 200 lbs/MBtu( coal) the per capita CO2 emissions in Wyoming are about 100 tons per year. At $30/ton that’s would be a $3,000 per capita tax on the residents of Wyoming and about a $600 per capita tax on the residents of California.
    The Senators from Wyoming would cease to be Senators from Wyoming if they voted for a $3,000/capita tax on their citizens when the Californians only had to pay $600. It doesn’t matter what political party they come from.
    Going back as far as Jimmy Carter, energy taxes have been extremely difficult to get thru the US Senate,  Doesn’t matter ‘which party’. ‘Who pays’ is what matters…rural life is more energy intensive then urban life.

  17. PDA says:

    As an example it would seem that Spain has been in non compliance since 1999 on reducing VOC levels.
    Right. Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, the Vatican, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, the Russian Federation, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are in compliance.
    The economic powerhouse that is Spain, on the other hand, is flouting its CLRTAP commitments, taking unfair advantage over most of the other nations in the Northern Hemisphere.
    I see your point.

  18. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Normally you seem to be a pretty straight shooter so I’m suprised to see you resort to this sort of trickery.
    Per capita energy consumption is only a useful metric when you’re looking at residential (i.e. consumer) consumption.  On that basis, California uses about half the energy as Wyoming does (in large part because of aggressive energy efficiency policies).  Even if you adjust for the higher emissions from coal-fired electricity, the net consumer impact is nowhere near the 500% difference you suggest in your post.  In fact, when you factor in transportation (the great leveler), carbon costs at the consumer level are only about 25% higher ($325 per capita in Wyoming vs. $250 in Cali).  See the PERI study for a useful state by state comparison on the impact of a cap and dividend system with carbon priced at a whopping $25/tCO2e.
    But hey what’s an order of magnitude between friends eh?

  19. Jeff Norris says:

    My point was not that Spain is trying to gain a competive advantage but you would have to admit that it is flouting its commitment CLRTAP and those countries you listed seem powerless or unwilling to do anything about it.  I am not an expert but I did spend some time looking through the UNECE web site for reports showing the positive impacts of the treaty.  Unfortunately, it would seem that many of the signatories, primarily the Eastern European Countries, have consistently failed to provide data needed to evaluate the impacts.  Why would these countries fail to comply with data requests?  Currently the committee is asking various reporting countries to pay the cost of monitoring in the non reporting countries so we will see how that works.  A recent WHO report assessment concluded 
    “After substantial decreases in outdoor air pollution in most of the Region in the 1990s, progress in the last decade has been minimal.”
    My main point is not that countries won’t sign a treaty but the reality is that most action is on paper only with numerous exceptions, exemptions and little if any penalties (or results)


  20. thingsbreak says:

    This was an embarrassing bit of false equivalence by Revkin.
    1. Denialism has a meaning.
    2. The reality of radiative forcing doesn’t shift with the political winds, nor does the place of the President’s birth. Legislation does.
    By all means, call supporting emissions legislation “dead”, naive, what have you. But it sure as sh*t isn’t denialism. To claim so does so much violence to the word and its definition that it ceases to have meaning.
    Holocaust revision, birtherism, anti-vax, homeopathy, Lost Causers, creationism, climate denial, etc. have common elements. Expressing optimism for the prospects a policy preference is a difference not simply of degree, but rather of kind.
    “Both sides are bad” false equivalence is no better than He said, She said. Amazing how irresistible it proves for certain journalists.
    @Keith Kloor:
    a segment of the climate community that remains stuck in its own echo chamber
    Oh the irony! Any chance you or any other breakthrough supporter is going to get around to actually articulating how your preferred strategy is any more viable in this political climate and actually keeps coal in the ground?
    It’s been what, about 7 months? Still waiting…

  21. laursaurus says:

    I was certainly never a birther, but wondered if there was something Obama was hiding.
    But I give him major kudos for releasing the data to the public. Until just a few days ago, I had no idea that the “long form” is an internal log. The Certificate of Live Birth IS the proof of birth place. Besides, the man was voted into office. If you don’t him as president, then get a better candidate to oppose him in the next election. Looking for a possible technicality is just silly sour grapes.
    Now if instead of making excuses, release the data on climate to the public. Just like Obama, people get suspicious that there must be something to hide (like the decline?).

  22. thingsbreak says:

    release the data on climate to the public
    What data that have any bearing on policy-level questions are you looking for that you cannot access?

  23. kdk33 says:

    “Per capita energy consumption is only a useful metric when you’re looking at residential (i.e. consumer) consumption.”

    Maybe.  But if Wyoming energy usage is driven by things like weather and distance then it’s not so simple.  The tax on retail business will be passed directly to the consumerm might as well be a residential tax.  The tax on other business is more complicated to trace to it’s source, but if Wyoming businesses are tzxed disproportionately to similar business in other state, that can’t be good for Wyoming.

    As always, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

  24. Brandon Shollenberger says:

    @21, lausaurus, what you say isn’t quite true.  The “long form” birth certificate is certainly an “internal log” (not that that means it is only used internally).  However, what you say about the short form isn’t true.  It’s important to realize Obama originally provided a “Certification of Live Birth,” not a Certificate of Live Birth.  The document he provided recently was a Certificate of Live Birth.  It was also a long form birth certificate.
    Put simply, a “certification” is a short form birth certificate.  Unlike long form birth certificates, there is no single standard for what information must be included in short form birth certificates,  Some short forms are valid proof of birth and citizenship; others aren’t.
    People mocking birthers often said there was no difference between a certificate and a certification.  That is untrue.  They also said short form birth certificates are valid proof.  Thats is a generalization which is only sometimes true.  As far as I can tell, nobody actually bothered to explain the full situation when mocking birthers.  I suspect this is what the issue to become such a hot topic.
    Incidentally, I don’t think I ever saw anyone address this portion of Hawaii’s state law, which I think is a shame.

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