Rebranding of the Climate Crisis Underway

The last year has seen a couple of high-profile disappointments for climate change action. First there was “climategate,” the theft of emails from UK scientists purporting to show distortion of data in defense of global warming predictions. That controversy seriously discredited the tactic of talking about global warming as looming Armageddon, and is still brought up by public figures looking to discredit renewable energy and the like.

Then there was Copenhagen, which failed to produce a binding document on carbon mitigation. All of this as polls show fewer and fewer Americans believe global warming is a threat.

The bad PR has many climateers reconsidering their approach to convincing the general population of the urgency of change.

Nowhere is this new zeitgeist more apparent than in the first post of Andrew Revkin’s new opinion blog for the New York Times. Revkin is one of the most well-respected journalists writing on climate change; he covered the issue for the Times from 1995 to 2009, and is now a Senior Fellow at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies.

Revkin starts his post by outlining the very real dangers we all face due to our use of fossil fuels and high rates of consumption, but then follows with this:

Nonetheless, if I had to choose one of two bumper stickers for our car —CLIMATE CRISIS or ENERGY QUEST — I’d choose the latter. This doesn’t mean I reject the idea that we face a climate crisis. I just don’t think that phrase is a productive way to frame this challenge, particularly as defined over the last few years in the heated policy debate.

Revkin goes on to define that energy quest as “an active, positive assertion that the ways we harvest and use energy — an asset long taken for granted and priced in ways that mask its broader costs — really do matter.”

Climate change change

Revkin is not the only high-profile proponent of a new way of packaging climate policy. The Obama administration and Congressional leaders have realized that if they want to pass any sort of carbon mitigation legislation they will have to repackage it as an economic challenge, rather than an impending disaster that many people have trouble conceptualizing — even those that should know better (weather forecasters). Thus talk of “energy security” instead of global warming, “green jobs” instead of cap-and-trade.

The new path is showing real results: as I write this, a bipartisan group of senators continues to work on a new energy policy for America that includes carbon reduction strategies, and has the best chance of passing both houses of Congress than any such legislation so far.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

12 responses

  1. I'm glad that I'm not the only one to see this subtle rebranding. Anyone else notice the UK in Canada road testing a new spokesman on climate, this one is a security expert formerly with the British private security agencies association? They say the gossipy and lightweight UK high commission in Ottawa failed at getting anyone to cover the UK position so London HQ forced this on them. It's going to be interesting to see if this gets them any more cred on the subject

  2. Ah, the spinmasters at work even now, beginning with this article, to wit: the new strawman/red herring/goalpost shift, in the form of…

    “That controversy…still brought up by public figures looking to discredit renewable energy and the like.”

    No, I think they were pretty much discrediting all the increasingly shrill cry-wolf alarmism behind the so-called science that supposedly supported the hypotheses of impending catastrophic warming doom, and primarily from human fossil fuel burning. That's it in a nutshell. The attempt to re-frame it as “looking to discredit renewable energy and the like” is about as dishonest, disingenuous, as one could possibly get.

    Pretzel logic much?

    1. I am a life-long cynic. I still believe we should do something about global warming, because if we're wrong, we've just blown a lot of money, but if we're right and we don't do anything we're going to regret it. Its like…health insurance. You pay for it just in case something happens.

      1. Oh, if it were only just as simple as having “blown a lot of money”. When you are asked to pay for ten houses in advance as “insurance” for the one house you have standing, and in addition prevent millions from even building the one house they dream of having, that is not an “insurance premium”. Furthermore, it is a phantom chase for those who want to feel as if they are “doing something”, as the results are guaranteed not to even be the slightest bit discernible or measurable, and couldn't possibly influence “climate” for the next 50 years.

        There is a lot of absolutely guaranteed poverty and imminent death associated with the proposed feel-good “insurance policies”, but somehow the precautionary principle states that if it may, on a slight chance, save future unseen lives, all the poverty and all the deaths will be worth it. We're not just gambling with money to assuage the fears of those are prone who live in fear; it is a very real gamble with the survival — not just prosperity — of untold lives.

        If I, along with the entire world, am going to be roped into a cause on the pretense that it will save lives and prevent future calamity and suffering, I would much prefer remedies to problems that are directly measurable now, and for which there really is a broad consensus — scientifically and politically. Hampering our ability to directly address those problems is not my idea of sound, reasonable, even sane, thinking.

        1. If you believe humans are contributing to warming, and your post suggests you might, then I don't understand why you wouldn't want to take ownership of the problem. If we can control our emissions of CO2 then the ball is in our court — do we want to continue with CO2 emissions because it turns out global warming isn't a problem? Fine. Or do we want to bring them down to a minimum because the planet is warming, it's our fault, and it's causing serious, increasing problems? Fine, we're on the way. But if we make no effort, we guarantee we will have no say in what the climate will be like in 100 years.

          This issue is a great metaphor for the conservative/progressive divide. Progressives think “something should be done” about the climate change “problem,” whereas conservatives think it's not really a problem and even if it is, it's absurd/dangerous to think you can really change anything. There is wisdom to both sides. Progressives have stumbled on their grand plans over and over again. And life itself suggests “accepting that which we cannot change” is important.

          On the other hand, things do change and problems are solved, sometime through — yes, I'm sorry — concerted, conscious action. If no one ever made the effort to change things, as quixotic a quest as it may appear at the time, then nothing would get done.

          Also, there are benefits to reducing CO2 in the form of technologies that do not rely on limited resources to function, whether oil, gas or coal. I guess it's my techie side but I really like the idea of decoupling our electricity as much as possible from sources of power you have to pay for.

        2. BC, I do believe that humans are contributing to the climate, but I am not the slightest bit convinced, even on a precautionary level, that it is a problem. To me it's like hypochondriacs who are insisting that a sniffle might be the same as a malignant tumor, and that radical surgery is the best approach — just in case. And the degree to which symptoms have been egregiously exaggerated and interpreted as attribution to future (and even present) calamities leaves me stunned, knowing that there is far more to this than science or climate.

          This issue, I believe, goes beyond being a metaphor for the great conservative/progressive divide. I think this issue is very much a product of that divide, and not the science as interpreted by some that got us here. I am in chasm in between that divide, and seeing what I believe to be neglected wisdom from both sides, I am filled with utter contempt and disdain for both most of the time. Conservatives don't conserve (and I don't mean that in a rationing, deprivation sense), and progressives don't progress.

          Like you, my techie side would also like to see a decoupling of everything from the large concentrated collectives of all kinds, from energy to agriculture to health care, and even politics — but there is not the slightest part of me that can rationalize that the end proposed is justified by the means of what I see as a Great Lie.

          And I am thinking long term. We have, collectively and individually, another ice age coming, and even then I see it as an inevitability best addressed by adaptation. Meanwhile, I am not even a little convinced that climate change, even using the most ridiculously alarmist warming scenarios, is a bad thing for this planet. I don't believe we should just “accept” change of this kind, any more than I believe the creation of a global thermostat at-all-costs should be even contemplated, let alone attempted. Rather I believe we should embrace such changes – not in a nihilistic sense, but in a progressive sense (using what I view as the best meaning of the spirit of that word).

  3. Excellent comment Mr. Stevendouglas, excellent.
    Blaine…I'm from the UK and have not heard about this, do you have a link or more info? I'd be most appreciative.

  4. The U.S. Government has yet to give its citizens a coherent energy policy or goal. But it HAS given them biofuels, a decision that even environmentalists regret. The government is also pushing for expansion of wind and solar power, which will always be unreliable, expensive, and which can never be a 24/7 source of energy. As the government pushes for electric cars and factories, it ignors the infrastructure modernization necessary to handle the resulting increased demand for electrical power generation using clean energy sources. Our future world depends on powering factories and vehicles with electricity, not with fossil fuels. The only way this can happen is if the government funds a (crash?) R&D effort to develop the clean technology to generate clean 24/7 electricity, or some yet-to-be-invented energy source.

    But all we get from government is no energy policy, disastrous manufacturing of biofuels, and expensive solar/wind devices that have no hope for producing future energy needs. And we get legislation for Cap and Trade using some other politically-swallowable name. The cap and Trade idea is to put money into corporate investors' pockets to somehow pay the cost of converting to nonexistant clean energy sources.

    In 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared it to be the goal of the United States to put a man on the moon within the decade. The government paid for this to happen and, in 1969, it happened. Where is this proven approach, now that we are told of the coming global warming crisis?

  5. Jay Richards’ “When-Not-To-Believe-The-Science-Of-Scientists” is the best rebuttal to the relentless drum beat of the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) zombies. A person’s retort only has to quote one or more of a dozen of the reasons listed below, depending on the offending Eco-hype in question, to give Jay Richards' logic and common sense wings. His 12 point checklist should be taught in the classroom to inoculate our youth against the rising flood of propaganda manufactured by Big Government, Big Media and Big Academia working together against the best interests of the American people.

    Let's see, what might fit the logical absurdities ladled out in many of today’s AGW articles responding to ClimateGate revelations of scientific, political, media and academic misconduct and outright RICO ACT fraud? #10 looks pretty good to start with, but here, you choose the rest:

    (1) When different claims get bundled together.
    (2) When ad hominem attacks against dissenters predominate.
    (3) When scientists are pressured to toe the party line.
    (4) When publishing and peer review in the discipline is cliquish.
    (5) When dissenting opinions are excluded from the relevant peer-reviewed literature not because of weak evidence or bad arguments but as part of a strategy to marginalize dissent.
    (6) When the actual peer-reviewed literature is misrepresented.
    (7) When consensus is declared hurriedly or before it even exists.
    (8) When the subject matter seems, by its nature, to resist consensus.
    (9) When “scientists say” or “science says” is a common locution.
    (10) When it is being used to justify dramatic political or economic policies.
    (11) When the “consensus” is maintained by an army of water-carrying journalists who defend it with uncritical and partisan zeal, and seem intent on helping certain scientists with their messaging rather than reporting on the field as objectively as possible.
    (12) When we keep being told that there’s a scientific consensus.

    For a better understanding go to:

  6. There is more to this than meets the eye…..
    Be afraid – be very afraid!

    Is this really asking you to be part of the World's Greatest Bank Job (ha ha ha ha) or a conniving way to encourage you to be a part of the Worlds Biggest Con Job?
    I just have to wonder how many folk actually have heard about the 'Robin Hood Tax' ? – (RHT) and more importantly have taken the time to find out what it is? where it comes from? what is actually involved? Let me tell you right now it involves BILLIONS OF DOLLARS, and of course, should it come to pass, just who will administer it?

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