Pushing Back on Romm's Censorial Mentality

Last week, the New York Times put out a special section on energy that didn’t pass muster with Joe Romm. He declared:

I think it is safe to cancel your subscriptions to the one-time paper of record. While there are 1 or 2 reporters at the New York Times who get climate and energy, it’s obvious that most don’t and, more importantly, the editorial staff simply don’t know what they’re doing.

This is typical hyperbole from Romm that largely gets ignored by climate media watchers. But this particular rant caught Charlie Petit’s eye at the Tracker. As he noted, Romm was upset

because the section is full of news on fossil fuel industry expansion but not enough, not much at all actually, on why it’d be much better to look forward to a future with no fossils fuels at all and a stabilized atmospheric concentration of CO2.

Petit then says something that gives a clue as to why Romm gets a free pass for his heavy-handed attacks on journalists:

Romm’s energy sensibilities are on the side of the angels. We got an emergency unfolding and governments and their populaces are, most of them, pulling pillows over their heads so they can sleep.

But then Petit’s better journalistic angel takes over (my emphasis):

Would the  [Times] section have been better to have run a significant feature on the consequences to the planet if the growth curves of fossil fuel use implied by what industry and policy experts expect were to occur (not the same as what’s best)? Sure, why not. It is gut-wrenching to read, amid a few pieces on the struggles of the clean-energy business, how bullish analysts are on petroleum and natural gas. But cancel the paper? Romm seems to be temperamentally skating close to the mentality of police state censors: as in China when nothing in the news about policy matters could be printed without reference to Mao, as in the Soviet Union when it was ditto for Stalin (or, today, to the Dear Leader or whatever they call the monomaniac in charge of N. Korea). Not that I’d equate, at all, the edifice of climate science with the intellectual bankruptcies of various dictators. But to demand only one angle on news stories, an angle that has been given extensive coverage and is therefore not news anymore except when things come along to advance the ball, is to be delusional about that a news medium’s job is.

It’s not often that Romm gets called out by media watchdogs for his rhetorical excesses, so this one time was worth noting.

31 Responses to “Pushing Back on Romm's Censorial Mentality”

  1. Tom Fuller says:

    Shooting ducks in a barrel. 

  2. Gaythia says:

    One of the reasons to subscribe to  papers is to monitor, identify and respond to imperfections and unreasonableness by letters to the editors or online comments.
    If not the New York Times, then what?  Maybe he wants a subscription to the Loveland (CO) Reporter Herald instead?

  3. Nick says:

    Um…I read that piece and didn’t seriously consider canceling my subscription.  Just as I wasn’t duped into assigning a direct link between climate change and the Somali famine when he used a photo of a malnourished child in a piece a couple weeks ago. 

    The idea that Joe is “temperamentally skating close to the mentality of police state censors” is hyperbolic, itself.  What’s your deal with him?  Go have a drink together or something.   

  4. anonymous says:

    You all can ascertain the difference between “cancel your subscription” and “cancel the paper”, can’t you? The difference between a hyperbolic blogger and a one-party state? Maybe Tom Fuller can’t, but it seems like reasonable people should be able to.

  5. NewYorkJ says:

    But cancel the paper? Romm seems to be temperamentally skating close to the mentality of police state censors:

    Really?  Note the omission of “your subscriptions”.  Romm only suggests readers shouldn’t waste time/money on a news source that often pushes fossil fuel industry propaganda (in this case, “the inevitability of BAU” meme), and has few good journalists on energy and environmental issues, a point on which many would agree.  He’s hardly advocating state censorship.

    The Persecution Card is a popular play among deniers.  Petit seems to be using it as well.

  6. I read the NYT almost every day and will continue to do so.  Romm’s suggestion is laughable and typically drama-queeny.  But it’s not ‘police state’ tactics.

  7. Jarmo says:

    The fact is that renewable energy gets far more publicity than the terawatt hours it generates warrant. Some apparently mistake this biased state for reality.

    If you want a dose of reality, read e.g. EIA international energy outlook 2035. They will tell you that:

    – renewable share of total energy use increases from 10 percent in 2008 to 14 percent in 2035.
    – World use of petroleum and other liquids4 grows from 85.7 million barrels per day in 2008 to 97.6 million barrels per day in 2020 and 112.2 million barrels per day in 2035.
    – Unconventional resources (including oil sands, extra-heavy oil, biofuels, coal-to-liquids, gas-to-liquids, and shale oil) from both OPEC and non-OPEC sources grow on average by 4.6 percent per year over the projection period.
    – World natural gas consumption increases by 52 percent in the Reference case 
    –  In the absence of national policies and/or binding international agreements that would limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, world coal consumption is projected to increase from 139 quadrillion Btu in 2008 to 209 quadrillion Btu in 2035, at an average annual rate of 1.5 percent
    –  Installed coal-fired generating capacity in China nearly doubles in the Reference case from 2008 to 2035, and coal use in China’s industrial sector grows by 67 percent.

  8. NewYorkJ says:

    IEA has a few issues too.

    In 1998, the IEA predicted that global wind electricity generation would total 47.4GW by 2020. This figure was reached in December 2004, the report says. In 2002, the IEA revised its estimate to 104GW wind by 2020 ““ a capacity that had been exceeded by last summer.



  9. NewYorkJ says:

    EIA <> IEA.  My mistake.

    Jarmo quoting EIA:  In the absence of national policies and/or binding international agreements that would limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions

    …in the Reference case 

    Thus the need for national and international agreements to reduce emissions.  It’s unlikely to happen (sufficiently at least) magically as some assert, nor is BAU inevitable as the NYT article portrays it.  I do think that some “reference case” estimates tend to underestimate the growth of renewables, as the IEA case has proven.

  10. Jarmo says:


    I referred to US Energy Information Agency, not to International Energy Agency. EIA is part of the US Department of Energy.


  11. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    Wait just a darned minute. Calling for a boycott is utterly different from government censorship, and Romm is not even calling for a boycott but merely giving a scathing review of the paper’s journalism and telling readers not to waste their time. I don’t think much of Romm, but he’s a private individual with no power to force anyone to stop reading the Times. And that makes all the difference.

    Comparing Romm to Mao and Stalin in this way is just as wrong-headed and absurd as comparing climate-change deniers to Holocaust deniers or comparing Anderegg and Schneider to Joe McCarthy.

    Romm vs. Times sounds a lot closer to J. Hoberman vs. Armond White than Stalin vs. Solzhenitsyn.

  12. Jarmo says:

    The page won’t refresh automatically  🙁 hence I did not read your message before posting mine.

    I agree that renewables can grow faster than predicted. However, energy demand will increase most in places like India and China who will also increase the use of fossil fuels far faster than renewables. 

    Just take a look at India’s UMPP projects, 16 4GW coal power stations, each of them equal to Drax power station in Britain that produces 7 % of all UK emissions. Where are the renewable projects that could replace these projects? 

  13. Keith Kloor says:


    You should read Petit’s post (if you haven’t already). It seems clear to me he’s not making such a comparison. 

  14. Fred says:

    Romm’s lack of openness to various viewpoints (this episode is, of course, but one example) hurts arriving at the truth in a situation where there is so much yet to learn – like climate change.  It also leads to a sterile and boring blog. 
    Much more interesting and fun here!

  15. hunter says:

    Joe Romm….Joe Romm? 
    A neverwuzzer who thinks he is a winner.
    Who cares what he says anyway?

  16. hunter @ 15,  maintaining his stellar batting average. 
    “In September 2009, Time magazine named him one of its “Heroes of the Environment (2009)“, calling him “The Web’s most influential climate-change blogger”.
    Not bad for a ‘neverwuzzer’. 


  17. lucia says:

    I can’t cancel my subscription to the NYT because I’ve never subscribed.  I subscribe to the Chicago Tribune and the Wall Street Journal.  That seems to suit my needs.

  18. Keith Kloor says:

    I’ve read the Times my whole life, and will continue doing so until my last breath. In my lifetime, the Judith Miller fiasco is their lowpoint.

    I also try to read the WSJ, or at least glance at it every day.

    Dismissal of a paper because of a single story or section is just nuts to me. 

  19. I read the WSJ at least once a week, as well as the NY Post, on the principle of know thy enemy.  Not to mention that while their op-ed page is usually a wasteland of monied interests and their think-tank drones, WSJ reporting often remains excellent.
    The Post is sometimes hilarious, both intentionally and not.

  20. lucia says:

    I wouldn’t dismiss the NYT based on this. If I subscribed, I’d keep my subscription. But I live in Chicago, so I subscribe to a Chicago paper. How else am I going to follow our own goin’s on? 

  21. Menth says:

    6. “Romm’s suggestion is laughable and typically drama-queeny.
    My thoughts exactly. He peppers all of his post with this kind of language. Krugman could write a column next week and there would be a CP post titled “MUST-READ Krugman NYT Column Eviscerates Redumblican Anti-Science Stance on Climate Change.”

  22. Jack Hughes says:

    I’ve just cancelled my subscription to Romm’s blog 🙂

  23. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    Keith:  If Romm compared Revkin to Stalin or Mao you’d be all over him, even if he followed up saying, “of course I’m not saying Revkin’s as bad as them.” Petit compares Romm to those two, and even though he follows up by saying “Not that I’d equate at all,” this hardly erases the fact that he made the absurd comparison in the first place. Petit’s over the top comparison of a negative review to police-state censorship undermines an otherwise fine commentary.
    Re: #18, Jeff Gerth’s frame job on Wen-Ho Lee was an even lower point in the Times’s history than Judith Miller, and the fact they didn’t fire Gerth speaks badly of the paper’s sense of journalistic accountability.
    That said, the paper isn’t a monolith and I can be angry at Gerth, and at the editors at the Times for failing to adequately hold him accountable without depriving myself of the fine reporting and editing that more generally characterizes that paper. I would wish Romm to have a bit more perspective on things, but my time would be better spent waiting for a willow to bear grapes.

  24. harrywr2 says:

    #7 Jarmo,
    EIA Reference case 2035
    The EIA models are fairly linear and fail to take much notice of underlying trends until well past the point that the trend is obvious. It took the EIA 10 years to recognize that US mine productivity was dropping and incorporate it into their models. They also failed to notice coal freight transportation rates were rising.
    Developing countries want to achieve ‘reliable’ power. It’s hard to incorporate windmills without hydro. China has been building hydro like crazy and will add plenty of windmills to match their hydro plants soon enough.
    The current productivity rate for a Chinese coal miner is 505 tons/annum( compared to 12,600 tons per annum for an American coal miner. I don’t think there has been a country that has ‘developed’ that didn’t have a major coal miners strike.
    Nuclear is ‘cheaper’ then coal in almost all of China. ‘No brainer’ cheaper. The best numbers I can find on the size of the Chinese version of US NRC was 230 employees in 2010 with an authorization to grow to 1000. Imagine 230 employees overseeing the construction of 25 reactors and one can understand why some in China are screaming ‘slow down’ on the nuclear front. The US NRC employs 4,000. The inadequate size of the Chinese Nuclear regulatory authority is holding back their nuclear expansion plans IMHO.
    It was only 2006 that the Australians, who have 23% of the world uranium known reserves agreed to sell China uranium. To have shovel in the ground on 25 reactors when 5 years ago Uranium supply was a big question mark is an ‘unbelievable breakneck pace’.
    Some may say dangerous…but then another 100 or so Chinese coal miners got killed this week
    At this moment India has about 1/6th the installed hydro-power as China. So there isn’t much hydro to match windmills with. Indian coal, like Chinese coal is expensive to extract. Much of India’s coal reserves are inaccessible by rail. India wants to build nuclear and has some plants under construction. Up until 3 years ago the entire nuclear suppliers group had them blacklisted.  They couldn’t even manage to get Uranium for the reactors they had, never mind consider building more reactors. Australia still refuses to sell them Uranium. All that said they are putting ‘shovel in ground’ on reactors at a pace of 1 every 6 months. India made a ‘mis-step’ in their nuclear program by proceeding as soon as they came off the nuclear suppliers group blacklist without first conducting a public education program. So they’ll be slowed down by that.
    IMHO Short term(5-10 years) coal is probably a good investment even though I think the market has already priced that into coal stocks. Long term as the impediments to building nuclear or wind or hydro in the developing world are removed coal isn’t a very good investment.

  25. Eric Adler says:

    I read Romm’s blog and learn a lot from it, even though it is sometimes  over the top.
    His criticism of the NY Times article on new sources of fossil fuels was unwarranted. The article was informative on the new sources of fossil fuels, which was its purpose. The devil’s bargain comment in the article did point out the threat presented by these developments to global warming. I think its placement at the beginning of the article was sufficient to remind the reader of the threat. 
    In my opinion, his criticism of the article on green jobs was on target. It seemed like a bunch of Republican talking points, and deserved the scorn Romm gave it.

  26. EdG says:

    Hmmm. Funny. I’m sure the folks at the NYT are panicking over the inevitable massive decline in subscriptions as the countless multitudes of Rommans follow this decree – not.    

    Does he also have a list of banned books on his site?

  27. Jarmo says:

    Romm may have to stop reading the Guardian, too:

    Why the world is burning more coal
    The inconvenient truth is that coal remains a cheap and dirty fuel “” and the idea of ‘clean’ coal remains a distant dream

    …. King coal is extending his kingdom. So dysfunctional is the world’s response to climate change that every year, the dirtiest fuel of them all is generating a growing proportion of the world’s energy.
    All the talks in Durban will be of how to kick the coal habit. But as the climate talks have dragged on “” from Nairobi in 2006 to Bali to Poznan to Copenhagen to Cancun and now to Durban “” we have been hardening our addiction.
    When the talks began half a decade ago, 25 percent of the world’s primary energy came from coal. The figure is now 29.6 percent. Between 2009 and 2010, global coal consumption grew by almost 8 percent.

    ….Cynics who said tougher carbon controls in rich nations might increase global emissions by outsourcing energy-intensive industries to poorer nations with laxer standards are, for now at least, being proved right. While many Western economies stall, many developing economies are growing fast. And the continuing heavy dependence of many of them on coal is pushing up the global economy’s reliance on the dirtiest fuel.
    China may be the world’s largest producer of wind turbines and solar panels, but its coal consumption has doubled in the past eight years.


  28. hunter says:

    @16: Joe gets the best reviews money can buy.
    He is influential the way a drooling idiot at the village gate is influential.

  29. Eric Adler says:

    Hunter @ 28,
    Do you have any facts to back you up on this?

  30. hunter says:

    No more than Romm relies on, as to the purchase price of his rave reviews. And only my aesthetic impression he leaves as to the level of his influence.

  31. That tinfoil hat really suits you, hunter.

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