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Friday, July 27, 2018
HUNTER CUTTING previews the upcoming NYT Sunday Magazine book-length essay by Nat Rich, saying: .@NathanielRich appears to go full Pogo in previewing his upcoming special issue of the @NYTmag telling us to forget Republican politics, forget the fossil fuel industry, and instead blame climate change on "human nature." My take on his take: https://medium.com
''I am really struggling to understand how this NYT PR characterization, if it indeed reflects the content of the Aug 1st issue, will be anything other than revisionist defeatism that ignores or absolves the very real forces working to stymie action on climate.''
China's per capita fossil fuel use is still a fraction of USA's - and they are investing heavily in bending the curve, while USA is not. latest example: 350,000 electric buses in China, 350 in the USA Rich is generalizing US politics to "human nature."
No one here *wants* climate change to be bigger than a political problem, but climate math is unforgiving. All the gains on renewables in China are impressive, but so is the long tail of fossil fuel needs there and globally. Ask Jim Hansen... 1/2
It's a Twitter thing.. I'll be out your way soon. Happy to chat
Today, we live with the problem of climate change as if it were an inevitability. But that wasn’t always the case. During the ten years from 1979 to 1989, we came very close to solving the problem of global warming. Science, industry, government, the international community—everyone was on board and ready to act. How we got there, and why we ultimately failed, is the subject of a major new project from The New York Times Magazine.
On August 5, the entire magazine will be dedicated to a single story by Nathaniel Rich, a writer at large for the magazine, that tells the story of this critical decade in the planet’s history, and the individuals who tried to warn us. Rich’s narrative is accompanied by a series of stunning photos from around the world by George Steinmetz that show the profound effects of mankind’s inability to effectively address this slow-moving catastrophe. This story will change the way you think about climate change.
Please join us for a special launch event to mark the publication of this landmark issue at TheTimesCenter on Wednesday, August 1. Jake Silverstein, editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine, will be in conversation with Nathaniel Rich and two of the primary subjects of his story, the former NASA geophysicist James Hansen and the environmental activist Rafe Pomerance.
The special issue, which will go online earlier that day, is published in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.
Seating will be first come first serve.
Looking for the Enemy
''Is NYT Magazine’s Nat Rich Going Full Pogo on Us?''
According to Jake Silverstein, the editor in chief of the New York Times Magazine, “the August 5 issue of @NYTmag will be dedicated entirely to a one book-length essay -- a single story -- a captivating, revelatory history about the decade we almost stopped climate change, but didn’t.” [1979-1989 OLD HISTORY!]
And the breathless hype doesn’t stop there, Silverstein lauds the author, Nat Rich, tweeting the piece as: “a remarkable piece of historical journalism that will change the way you think about global warming.”
Unfortunately the early hints suggest that Rich’s piece will do anything but that.
On April 20, 2018, Nat spoke at a Boston University Symposiumwhere he appeared to preview his thesis (since he had already written his piece in preparation for the NYT PR stunt and a future book he will publish of the same text). Nat spoke to one of the key questions about climate change: why have we delayed so long in taking action?
And in contrarian style, he threw down a challenge to the assembled. Mid-way through his presentation, Nat offered:
“I question whether partisanship is really our biggest problem. And I question whether the industries’ misinformation campaign, as cynical and clownish as it is, is the problem.”
And a bit later, Rich doubles down, going on to say:
“I question additionally whether a lack of public concern is our biggest problem.”
“What is our problem? The shortest, most simple answer, I believe, is human nature. We’re a medium-term species. We plan ahead, but only so far. We’re willing to sacrifice comfort in the present for security in the future, but within reason.”
It is at this point that Rich effectively throws out 30 years of political history, and blames you and me for climate change. He’s gone ''full Pogo,'' declaring he has met the enemy and it is us.
Forget the fossil-fuel industry, forget the ideological mind-lock of the Republican party in the United States. Forget the clean energy investments Germans have made, forget the spectacular investments being made in China right now. Humans just can’t do it.
One might be willing overlook this re-write of history and accept Silverstein’s hype simply on the basis of originality. But there is nothing new here. Promoting climate change as a problem beyond the ability of humans to overcome goes back decades. The idea gets recycled regularly, coming out under new labels such as “super wicked.”
Normally it might make sense to wait and read all of what Rich has to say. After all a 5-minute preview presentation is not the same thing as an entire NYT Magazine dedicated to a single story.
I hope I’m wrong about Rich, and I would love to be pleasantly surprised by the NYT Magazine special issue. But I don’t think it makes sense to wait before speaking up.
It’s important to start the conversation now, before the special single-issue splashes down and the tsunami follows. The mighty NYT Magazine machine is already in full promotion marketing branding PR mode, hyping both the coming special issue and a launch event at the Times.
Others, far more well versed than I, will no doubt parse Rich’s thesis in detail. But to help prime the pump, below are some comments on his symposium presentation, offered as annotations to transcript excerpts.
[And one can watch the entirely of Rich’s 5-minute symposium presentation here, going from time marks 49’30” to 54”20”.]
Rich begins his version of history here:
“…By 1979, the basic scientific picture was well established and accepted by those at the highest levels of the federal government and industry, and attention turned from diagnosis of the problem to a refinement of the predicted consequences.
Global warming was not a partisan issue. Many Republicans, including some in the executive branch, argued in favor of taking action…” This line of thinking held throughout the 1980s. George Bush, during his presidential campaign, promised that he would solve climate change….”
Up to this point, Rich’s account, while rosy to the point of setting one’s teeth on edge, might be deemed faithful enough to reality to keep reading. But from here, he goes off the rails entirely:
“The fossil fuel industry itself had not yet brazenly embraced the role of comic book villain. As late as 1989, the American Petroleum Institute’s publicly declared position on climate change was to promote international cooperation and to encourage any policy measures that were consistent with broader economic goals, which is to say actions with other immediate benefits, including public health benefits.”
Here’s it worth noting that Scientific American shares a different history: “In June 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen told a congressional hearing that the planet was already warming, Exxon remained publicly convinced that the science was still controversial. Furthermore, experts agree that Exxon became a leader in campaigns of confusion. By 1989 the company had helped create the Global Climate Coalition (disbanded in 2002) to question the scientific basis for concern about climate change.”
And Rich goes on straight from there to say:
“Yet the US and the world failed to pass any binding international climate treaty, and we’ve never really come close again. So I question whether partisanship is really our biggest problem. And I question whether the industries’ misinformation campaign, as cynical and clownish as it is, is the problem.”
And it is precisely here that Rich waves away thirty years of political history, from 1990 to now. While action stopped in the U.S. thanks to Republican leadership, Europe and other developed countries took a much different course, and started working to de-carbonize. The poster child of that Kyoto movement might be Germany which embarked on it’s Energiewende. The Germans made sweeping investments in solar power that drove production of solar power panels to economies of scale that sent prices plunging (just as economists predicted), much to the delight of consumers in America where utility-scale solar power is now cheaper than coal-fired power.
Meanwhile back in the U.S., George Bush Jr. ran for President telling voters he would move forward on climate change and then performed an about-face after winning the election, reneging on his campaign pledge according the New York Times after “a cabinet-level review had concluded that Mr. Bush’s original promise had been a mistake inconsistent with the broader goal of increasing domestic energy production.” Does that sound like the limitations of the human species or more like the greed of the fossil fuel industry?
From here Rich moves on to polling to make his argument about the limitations of our species:
“What about concern over climate change?…Today two-thirds of Americans are concerned about climate change, yet a majority of Americans in every state, starting with West Virginia, say that the United States should participate in the Paris climate agreement. Overall, Americans support joining the Paris Accord by a factor of five to one. So I question additionally whether a lack of public concern is our biggest problem.”
What Rich doesn’t acknowledge is that while public support in the U.S. for action is a mile wide, it’s also only an inch deep. Poll after poll reports that climate change ranks dead last as a priority for American voters, voters who for the most have no clue as to the depth of the hole into which we’ve dug our-selves, no appreciation of the staggering carbon debt we are passing to our children, and little understanding of the firm link between fossil fuel pollution and the amplification of climate disasters that has inflicted billions of dollars in damages already.
This kind of playing field, where voters are half-blind and largely see the issue as a problem for tomorrow, is perfect for deeply-invested and extremely powerful political players who are trying to block action today.
And from there Rich moves to his thesis conclusion.
What is our problem? The shortest, most simple answer, I believe, is human nature. We’re a medium-term species. We plan ahead, but only so far. We’re willing to sacrifice comfort in the present for security in the future, but within reason.
I don’t think we’ll be able to change human nature, but we can do better to prepare ourselves for the changes that await us, and to moderate their severity. As we do so, as we try to exploit our species’s greatest strengths, we will also have to reckon with our greatest weaknesses.
Ironically Rich himself would appear to be exhibit A for his argument about the limitations of human vision. However, I hope I’m wrong about that, and I look forward to reading the NYT special issue. Regardless, there is a huge range in the natural variability of the human species. Better pundits with clearer vision are out there.
Triggering climate change was the “planetary/species destiny” part. What happens next is up for grabs. Do we evolve new behaviors or flare out as just another planets’ failed experiment in tech building intelligence.