Environment & the World

Friday, June 29, 2007

National Review LTE

Filed under: Climate Change, Media — Cathy @ 12:51 pm

A response to the National Review’s Cover Story on global warming.  

Dear Editor

I disagree with the conclusions of Jim Manzi’s recent cover article on global warming (“Game plan: what conservatives should do about global warming”), in which he argues that the economic costs of dealing with climate change do not justify the United States taking action to limit emissions.

Mr. Manzi rightly points out that estimates of climate sensitivity – how much the temperature will increase if we double atmospheric carbon dioxide levels – is uncertain; according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is likely 2-4.5C, with a best estimate of 3C.  Contrary to what Mr. Manzi suggests, it is very unlikely to be less than 1.5C.  At the global level, economic studies, including the one cited in the article, generally show net benefits to avoiding a warming above 2-3 C, relative to not taking action.

Mr. Manzi notes that the economic model discussed in his article predicts “large negative impacts in poorer areas closer to the equator,” but he then dismisses this problem because the economic impacts to the U.S. are roughly break-even.  Impacts to the developing world include increased water stress and reduced food security that is projected to impact 75-250 million people in Africa by 2020 and decreased freshwater availability in Asia that could affect a billion
people by the 2050s.  U.S. national security efforts will not be made easier by a do-nothing climate policy that effectively promotes global inequality and resource conflicts.

Mr. Manzi also dismisses the threat of abrupt climate change, arguing that the probability of such an event occurring is too slim to justify worrying about it.  He puts abrupt climate change in the same category with other low-probability potential disasters, such as nuclear war in Central Asia or a global disease pandemic.  But the key difference between abrupt climate change and these other disasters is that we know with certainty how to reduce the risk of abrupt climate change, i.e. reduce emissions.  Moreover, science provides rough estimates of how much the risk of abrupt climate change increases with higher emissions levels.  Yes, there are a number of unlikely risks which we cannot prepare for, but why does this mean we should not mitigate the risks which are at least partially under our control?

Because science gives us a guide for deciding the socially acceptable level of climate risk, it makes sense to implement some sort of cap or tax to prevent exceeding that threshold.  As Mr. Manzi states, “global warming is a manageable risk, not an existential crisis.”  We already have the technology we need to put us on a path to stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at levels that pose far less risk to world society than our present path.

Cathy Kunkel

Friday, August 4, 2006

Climate change in the British media

Filed under: Climate Change, Media — Cathy @ 10:38 pm

The BBC had an interesting article this week on the state of climate change media coverage in Britain:


They are at least ahead of the United States in accepting the problem, but even so there is debate about how this issue should be covered.  The leading criticism of the study was that coverage was too alarmist, making people feel powerless to combat the problem.

Also, flying in the face of much of the accepted wisdom of the environmental community, the study argued that most articles on this topic end up trivializing the solutions.  An environmental consultant is quoted in the article as saying “[W]e use a loud rumbling voice to talk about the challenge, about melting ice and drought; yet we have a mouse-like voice when we talk about ‘easy, cheap and simple’ solutions, making them sound as tiny as possible because we think that’s what makes them acceptable to the public … In fact it makes them seem trivial in relation to the problem.”

 I am inclined to agree with this statement, as I have often felt that the “10 ways you can stop global warming!” suggestions that are mandatory for every environmental organization’s website are uniformly uninspiring.  However, I would really like to see an actual study of consumer attitudes towards this issue.  Does anyone know of one?  I do know a couple of people who were inspired by Al Gore’s film to install more efficient appliances in their homes and telecommute to work more often, so perhaps such suggestions are more inspiring to people who are less familiar with these issues than I am.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Climate Change Documentary on Discovery Channel

Filed under: Climate Change, Energy, Media — Cathy @ 11:27 pm

I just watched the Discovery Channel’s 2-hour special on climate change.  It airs again on Saturday at 8pm ET/PT.  See http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/globalwarming/globalwarming.html.  There is also a “live chat” with Dr. Michael Oppenheimer online after the program, which is interesting to browse through.

Overall I thought it was very well done.  It was rather focused on the scientific side, in the sense that all of the people interviewed were scientists.  In terms of visual appeal, it probably does better than Gore’s movie. (Maybe “appeal” is the wrong word … footage of flooding tropical islands is not very inspiring).

Some of the stuff on the “solutions” segment was interesting.  For instance, I have often been skeptical of the claim that we can make a major shift in our emissions without significant lifestyle changes.  But apparently the average American family can reduce its emissions 60% by improving the efficiency of appliances and cars and buying more local food.

There was also talk of what New York City has been doing to become more environmentally conscious (mostly green building design and more efficient cabs and buses).  Unfortunately they didn’t really substantially address the fact that public transit is not available in many places and, in cities where it is available, people much prefer cars to buses.  So the fact that NYC has more efficient buses is good, but it would be better if more people rode them.  I guess there wasn’t time to go into some of the more creative solutions that other cities have made to improve public transit (see e.g. the city of Curitiba in Brazil: http://www.solutions-site.org/artman/publish/article_62.shtml).  People will always prefer the most convenient method of transit, and if a bus system can be designed that is more efficient and faster than car travel (by having designated bus lanes), people will probably go for it.  In Curitiba, for example, the buses transport 1.9 million people every day!

 Still, even though the show was a little short on creative solutions, it definitely served its purpose.  The presentation of the science was fairly clear and unequivocal.  And the point that we can start taking action now with affordable, available technology is very important even if the show didn’t go into some of the more innovative case studies.

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