This week’s show with Michael Levi was abysmal.
This is a perfect example of the fake-balance that’s omnipresent in today’s media. It doesn’t seem to matter if only one side of an argument is sound. Both sides are presented as if equally valid.
As is usually the case, the climate change denier (which is really what Levi is, acknowledging its existence, but dismissing it as not particularly urgent) is not a climate scientist. It’s absurd that non climate scientists are given equal time in this debate. Do we ask dentists about heart disease?
Levi has published a token couple of papers on environmental science, but spends most of his time elsewhere (e.g. consulting on the technical accuracy of the TV show ‘24’). We frequently hear from these skeptics (e.g. physicist Freeman Dyson), or hobbyist scientists like Levi, that they’re just not sure they trust the climate science consensus. Well, it helps to work at it full time!
And, the Council on Foreign Relations? Thanks. You guys steered us so adeptly into the Iran Hostage Crisis, and Iraq War. I think we might leave environmental policy to the experts.
Levi twice mentioned carbon capture and sequestration seriously. That immediately identifies you as a quack on this issue. Industrial CCS is absolutely nowhere yet. Compared to solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass, which frequently are ridiculed as not ready for prime time, CCS is in its infancy, and may never prove practical.
He then was touted by Mooney as knowledgeable in economics as well as environmental policy, but not once did he even mention externalities. Sorry, but when you consider the external costs of fossil fuels (e.g. cost of pollution not assigned to the producers, and the cost of Middle East wars to preserve global access to oil), solar, wind, and geothermal are already on par, or cheaper than gasoline and petro-diesel. Only a simpleton who only looks at gas pump prices doesn’t understand the externality issue. A serious policy analyst should.
He spin doctored the statement that the US was decreasing oil consumption. Anyone in environmental policy and economics should know that the drop in US oil consumption has been a result of the economic downturn, not any greening of our system. It’s also convenient that tar sands oil, which now represents more than a million “barrels” a day of consumption, is classified with bitumen, not crude oil. When you add crude oil consumption to tar sands oil, the combined consumption has only dropped by a token amount, easily explained entirely by the economic slowdown. As the economy has leveled off, so has the decrease in oil consumption.
Levi implied that increasing tar sands supply would have little effect on both oil prices, and overall greenhouse gas emissions. Has he ever observed the oil market before? Prices fluctuate wildly, with even minor changes to supply (or demand), and even do so when there are simply fears of supply changes. Again, indication that his economic literacy is appallingly low.
He tries to make the argument that natural gas is simply a substitute for coal, and therefore good for climate change. If that was truly a 1:1 substitute, I’d agree with him. But, I’ve had this same argument with friends of mine in Big Auto, who claim that their work to improve SUV fuel economy is actually more important for climate change than making additional improvements in compact/midsize fuel economy. That argument totally neglects the fact that when SUVs are made more cost-effective to operate, more people will drive them, negating any benefit of making them more efficient. This can be seen in the increase in curb weight of the average US passenger vehicle of about 1000 lbs in just a generation. Cheap natural gas will likely have the same effect. Just another excuse to put off developing renewables.
Nuclear. No discussion of the very important fact that although not CO2-emitting, nuclear has the enormous problem that it’s a finite energy source, too. If we used nuclear power like France does (most of their electricity is nuclear), the world would actually run out of nuclear fuel even faster than we’ll run out of oil. Nuclear is a silly technology to consider at this point, in any capacity other than simply keeping alive existing nuclear facilities until planned end-of-life, and then retiring.
Risk analysis. Levi basically said, “well, maybe 350 ppm isn’t the right number”. Of course it could be off. But, he only considered whether it might be 400 or 450 ppm. He made zero acknowledgement of the fact that it’s entirely possible that 350 ppm isn’t aggressive enough, and the secondary effects of climate change (loss of albedo from sea ice, release of sequestered methane, etc.) may provide more warming than currently estimated. No serious risk analysis takes the current consensus, and only considers the possibility that the estimate might err on one side. But, that’s what Levi’s done.
This is the problem I have with centrists in general. They really don’t know what they’re talking about, but have found that they can maintain the appearance of being reasonable if they simply pick a position that’s in between extremes. Very little human progress, and actual discovery, has been made by people who simply pick a position in the middle of mankind’s current spectrum of ignorance.
Agnostics don’t have it right simply because they’re in between atheists and believers. To not recognize the impossibility of an invisible, jealous space god isn’t wise. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell wasn’t a decent policy, just because it went half way to protecting civil rights. Obama ending the Afghan war by 2015 isn’t good foreign policy because the GOP wants us there forever. And people who claim that climate change isn’t an urgent problem don’t have the intellectual high ground.