Originally published by Joseph Romm on April 29, 2012 on Climate Progres. Note: All Climate Progress links worked when originally posted.
The New York Times keeps running opinion pieces and analyses that misstate the positions of the major environmental groups and even leading scientists.
A classic example is the Dot Earth post from Friday headlined, “A Critique of the Broken-Record Message of ‘Green Traditionalists’.” I will show that this critique is pure bunk. Indeed, this critique isn’t merely untrue, it is the exact opposite of the truth.
Amazingly, we will even see that the critique contains an utterly false attack on “a bunch of scientists” who just published a major report. But people just don’t click on links, I guess.
The New York Times post begins by stating that Keith Kloor “has an essay posted on Discover, titled ‘The Limits to Environmentalism,’ that is well worth reading.” The NY Times then reposts this introduction with a link to the rest:
If you were cryogenically frozen in the early 1970s, like Woody Allen was in Sleeper, and brought back to life today, you would obviously find much changed about the world.
Except environmentalism and its underlying precepts. That would be a familiar and quaint relic. You would wake up from your Rip Van Winkle period and everything around you would be different, except the green movement. It’s still anti-nuclear, anti-technology, anti-industrial civilization. It still talks in mushy metaphors from the Aquarius age, cooing over Mother Earth and the Balance of Nature. And most of all, environmentalists are still acting like Old Testament prophets, warning of a plague of environmental ills about to rain down on humanity.
For example, you may have heard that a bunch of scientists produced a landmark report that concludes the earth is destined for ecological collapse, unless global population and consumption rates are restrained. No, I’m not talking about the UK’s just-published Royal Society report, which, among other things, recommends that developed countries put a brake on economic growth. I’m talking about that other landmark report from 1972, the one that became a totem of the environmental movement. [Read the rest.]
No and no.
This analysis, which would have been relevant 20 years ago, is simply the opposite of the truth today.
Indeed, anyone who follows the history of the environmental movement knows that the most serious complaint offered against it these days is that it has become too corporatist and too focused on the techno-fix. I’m not saying I agree with that critique 100%, but it has far more truth to it than this critique.
If you look at the major environmental groups — the ones with the power and money that this analysis purports to be about — they all work closely with industrial corporations, generally take lots of industry money, and they aggressively supported a climate bill that was absurdly pro-technology and pro-industry, that was business friendly and market oriented.
The climate bill was entirely about pushing any low carbon technology into the marketplace — including nuclear power. The bill had staggeringly generous subsidies for pretty much every industry, including many billions for the coal industry to help it develop technology to save its ass.
And the broken-record New York Times simply seems unable to acknowledge that the tens of millions of dollars spent to promote the climate bill was done by focusing on the pro-technology message and utterly downplaying the threat of climate change. The primary focus of the messaging was on clean energy jobs, along with energy security and the threat of international competition — industrial competition.
While the NY Times is oblivious to this, it did not escape the attention of the Washington Post’sEzra Klein, who wrote about it in his 2010 article, “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?”
This notion that the environmental movement — or any other major play in the media landscape — is pushing non-stop apocalyptic messages like a broken record is one I debunked in this post “Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate” (excerpted at the end).
To see what message they are pushing, please visit the front page of the websites of The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council — and of the enviro groups with the really big revenues — the World Wildlife Fund, and National Wildlife Federation, National Audobon Society, the Nature Conservancy. Apocalypse not!
UPDATE: Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, author of two books and some 20 refereed articles on the U.S. environmental movement – whom the NY Times has called “an expert on environmental communications” — emailed me after reading my post:
This opinion piece by Mr. Kloor and Mr. Revkin is, generously speaking, highly problematic. It ignores a vast amount of scholarship on the environmental movement. It seems very difficult to me to understand how Mr. Revkin can maintain his argument that his opinion blog is “science based”and run something like this. There is apparently a double standard in operation, where the physical sciences are taken into account, but the social sciences are not. I would expect more fidelity to the empirical research on this topic from the NY Times. Perhaps a good start on becoming conversant with this material might be the books of two previous NY Times environmental reporters –Mark Dowie’s Losing Ground and Philip Shabecoff’s A Fierce Green Fire.
As an aside, the notion that being anti-nuclear is somehow a litmus test for proving environmental groups are “Green Traditionalists” stuck in the 1970s is particularly absurd. The Economist just published a 14-page report, “Nuclear energy: The dream that failed, A year after Fukushima, the future for nuclear power is not bright—for reasons of cost as much as safety.” Is there a more pro-corporation, pro-technology mainstream global publication than The Economist?
And then we come to the utter misrepresentation of the “just-published Royal Society report,” People and the Planet. Reading the NY Times, you’d get the impression that this is somehow a doom and gloom report about how “the earth is destined for ecological collapse” if we don’t reverse course. And you’d also believe that a “bunch of scientists” have written a jeremiad that “recommends that developed countries put a brake on economic growth.”
Not. And not.
Anyone who knows the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science, founded in 1660 — knows that like most big scientific bodies, it tends to be pretty staid and conservative. The Royal Society’s motto is apt: Nullius in verba — Latin for “On the words of no one” or “take nobody’s word for it.” It is “an expression of its enduring commitment to empirical evidence as the basis of knowledge about the natural world.”
So when someone attacks the Royal Society scientists, it’s a pretty good idea not to take their word for it. And in fact the report is pretty darn mild given the dire nature of our situation. More important, it most certainly does not recommend developed countries put a brake on economic growth.
If you go to the link the New York Times provided, here’s what the Royal Society has to say about our situation: