Friday, February 24, 2012

McKibben's Dishonest Huff Post Piece

Bill McKibben has written an astonishingly dishonest article for the Huffington Post.

Yes, I get it: McKibben thinks he is making hay with the Keystone XL issue -- and he certainly has made some -- and doesn't want to lose that. But that's no reason to fudge the facts.

He wrote about last weekend's Swart and Weaver article in Nature Climate Change -- the one that finds the carbon content of the "proven" Alberta tar sands will only raise average global temperatures by 0.03°C -- and he completely avoids mentioning their result. Completely.

In fact, much like Joseph Romm, he twists the article into implying it supports his established position -- when it does not. There isn't a single mention of the +0.03°C result in his article. Instead he bypasses it completely and moves beyond to report on the consequences of burning all of it -- which no one is currently talking about -- and of burning all available coal -- which we all accept would be disastrous.

A new study from a pair of British Columbia scientists shows that there's a lot of carbon in the tarsands -- but a lot more yet in the planet's coal deposits.

If you burned all the tarsands we know about now, you'd raise the planet's temperature more than half a degree -- i.e., half again as much as the global warming we've already seen, which has been enough to make the seas 30% more acid and cut Arctic sea ice 40%. But if you burned all the coal we know about it, the temperature would go up 15 degrees.

At a certain point, I suppose, it doesn't matter -- most scientists think anything more than two degrees Celsius puts us into a zone of extreme danger, and we're already halfway there. Fifteen degrees would be just gilding the lily. Still, it makes it clear that even if, as NASA's James Hansen has said, burning the planet's unconventional fuels like tarsands would mean it was "game over the for the climate," stopping that burning won't be enough. We also have to address the most obvious, conventional forms of energy -- coal, especially. It was the first kind of fossil fuel we learned to burn, 300 years ago. And we've got to kick the habit.
Do you see any mention of the paper's main result? No, I don't either.

Sure, it's easy for McKibben or me or you to say we shouldn't burn all the tar sands or all the coal. But we have very, very good lives and get to fly all over the world to do what we want.

Do you think about carbon when you fly? Anywhere? No, neither do I.

I'd FOIA McKibben's travel schedule if I could. But is a private organization, so I can't. I know he sometimes tries to do video appearances instead of in-person lectures. I also know he recently flew to Corvallis, Oregon to give a lecture in person. And that he's been all over. McKibben has surely emitted far more carbon than he's "entitled" to, on the per-capita basis that would keep atmospheric CO2 levels from reaching "dangerous" levels. Of course, so have I (but not as much as McKibben). And so have you (but not as much, I suspect, as McKibben.))

Once activists get into a cause, you just can't trust them to accurately portray the facts, especially if the facts change against them. I wonder how much funding gets, anyway. Does anyone know? Have they ever revealed it?


sylas said...

Do you think about carbon when you fly? Anywhere? No, neither do I.

Well, actually yes I do. I am rather surprised to see you don't. I didn't expect that, given your interests.

Sorry to jump on a minor point in the article; but this one aside jumped out at me.

(I don't fly much; but when I do, I take an option for "carbon credits" to offset what is used. Not sure how practical that is really; but at least it maintains visibility of the issue.)

David Appell said...

sylas: OK, that's good. I don't buy carbon credits when I fly.

Where do you buy carbon credits, and what are they used for?

Dano said...

Point missed on oilsands report, say researchers

Team calls for rapid transition to renewable energy

By Mike De Souza, Postmedia News February 22, 2012

Two Canadian climate change scientists from the University of Victoria say the public reaction to their recently published commentary has missed their key message: that all forms of fossil fuels, including the oilsands and coal, must be regulated for the world to avoid dangerous global warming.

"Much of the way this has been reported is (through) a type of view that oilsands are good and coal is bad," said climate scientist Neil Swart, who co-wrote the study with fellow climatologist Andrew Weaver. "From my perspective, that was not the point. . . . The point here is, we need a rapid transition to renewable (energy), and avoid committing to long-term fossil fuel use if we are to get within the limits" of reducing global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

The commentary, published in the British scientific journal Nature Climate Change, estimated the effect of consuming the fuel from oilsands deposits - without factoring in greenhouse gas emissions associated with extraction and production - would be far less harmful to the planet's atmosphere than consuming all of the world's coal resources.

"The conclusions of a credible climate scientist with access to good data are very different than some of the rhetoric we've heard from Hollywood celebrities of late," said Travis Davies, a spokesman from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

"However, it clearly doesn't absolve industry from what it needs to do: (To) continue to improve environmental performance broadly, and demonstrate that improvement to Canadians and our customers . . . in terms of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, as well as water, land and tailings facilities."

Swart and Weaver also note that growth in oilsands and recent debates over a major pipeline expansion project in the United States represent a symptom of the planet's unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels. The commentary said policy-makers in North America and Europe must avoid major infrastructure of this nature since it is pushing the planet dangerously close to more than 2 C of average global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, which is considered to be a threshold of dramatic changes in global ecosystems.

Swart also said their estimates revealed that the relative impact of the oilsands on the climate, per unit of production, would push the average Canadian to 75 per cent of what would be considered their maximum allowable carbon dioxide footprint for an entire lifetime. In other words, this would mean that after factoring in oilsands emissions, the average Canadian would not have much room left to consume fossil fuels for their other energy needs if he or she wanted to do their fair share of reductions when compared with citizens from other countries, Swart explained.

"If we go down this path, the amount of warming will be massive," Swart said...



sylas said...

David, I'm in Australia. I don't recall the international systems; but for a domestic flight, when I book I have the option provided to buy a carbon offset at the same time.

The airline then has a legal obligation to use the money appropriately; and their program for doing so is government certified. In fact, it is the airline that buys carbon credits, using money I and others pay (optionally) when we make a booking.

The last ticket I bought was with "Jetstar"; and their carbon offset program is described here:

I have no idea whether or not airlines in the USA offer such an option to their passengers.

The best option (IMO) is to keep your own carbon footprint as low as possible, rather than trying to buy your way out of an unchanged way of life; but when I do fly, I like to support the public efforts to keep the issues front and center.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

I just do not fly. At all. I, too, am astonished that you don't even think about it.

Anna Haynes said...

If you are accurately describing a divergence between McKibben's writing & the climate reality, I agree that it's disappointing.

The activists-vs-analysts meme floating 'round the blogosphere (see: Grist's David Roberts) says if we don't have activists (acting as such), we'll just keep putting off acting. How do we resolve this?

Re "once someone becomes an activist, their communications become suspect" - yes, I've felt this personally, among people working on divergent issues - not so much what I'm saying, but what I'm not saying. (unrelated to climate, btw)

And yet the alternative is to do journalism, which will leave you very isolated in a small town if you subject criticism-needing efforts to criticism, plus the return on fact-checking investment is proportional to readership, plus you risk having your investigative energies diverted by any ne'er-do-well (or worse) equipped with a laser pointer. Can't do it alone, it doesn't work.

p.s. the carbon footprint business in your post is silly.

Anna Haynes said...

On reading the Vancouver Sun article & reading McKibben, it sounds like he did indeed cover the key message from the researchers' paper.
(As Dano quotes, the article says "...public reaction to their recently published commentary has missed their key message: all forms of fossil fuels, including the oilsands and coal, must be regulated for the world to avoid dangerous global warming.")

Here's the article - Climate scientists say action needed on all fossil fuels

(And re my above "once someone becomes an activist...", I'm not sure I made it clear - I was speaking of what I feel myself doing, on non-climate topics.)

Rob said...

Buying carbon offsets seems uncomfortably similar to the medieval practice of buying indulgences which Martin Luther abhorred. I arrange my own carbon offsets. When I fly, I decide not to cut down any trees on my property--and the planet thanks me. The next time I fly, I decide again not to cut down the trees, and once again planet thanks me.

We have a nice working arrangement, the planet and me. "Nice planet you've got here," I say, "It'd be a shame if anything happened to it."

bahamamamma said...

It was really unkind of you to show a picture of Bill McKibben.

You reminded me of Lubos Motl who posted a very unflattering picture of John Cook of "SkepticalScience" infamy.

bahamamamma said...

Posting that pathetic diatribe wasted a lot of space. If you are going to uncritically parrot someone else's ideas why not give a link so we won't have to scroll through pages of nonsense.

I seldom agree with James Hansen but he points out that people who believe that "Renewables" will power our future also believe in the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny.

Stop being a Climate Zombie and do your own thinking. I don't expect you to agree with me but at least take the time to read this:

Anna Haynes said...

(A just-for-the-record addendum to my comment up above, on the sense of isolation: the feelings aren't always the reality, and we don't always peg their cause correctly.)

Anna Haynes said...

Let's juxtapose Appell's statement that McKibben "completely avoids mentioning their result" with DeSouza's statement that the authors said "public reaction... missed their key message". With the caveat that I haven't read the paper, I think we should distinguish between the terms "result" and "message". When the two diverge, what are the most salient aspects to communicate about the study, for a journalist? What about for an activist?

Dano said...

Posting that pathetic diatribe wasted a lot of space.

Better weak, pathetic hand-flapping to dissemble, please.