Julie Sherman (julieswn) Mon 19 Jul 10 14:05
This week, in Inkwell.vue, we welcome Eric Pooley to discuss his new book, The Climate War. Eric Pooley is the deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek and the author of The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth. He has served as managing editor of Fortune; editor of Time Europe; and national editor, chief political correspondent, and White House correspondent for Time. Before joining Time Inc. he was an award-winning writer, political columnist and senior editor for New York magazine. In 2007 Eric left Time Inc. and began three years of full-time work on The Climate War. Next he returned to journalism as a climate and energy columnist for Bloomberg News, and he has since become the deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek. Erics journalism has received many honors, including a 2001 National Magazine Award (for Time's special issue on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which he helped edit), the 1996 Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency (for his coverage of the Clinton administration), and four Henry R. Luce awards from Time Inc. He is a graduate of Brown University and lives with his wife and two daughters in New York. Interviewing Eric will be Christian De Leon-Horton, otherwise known as <echodog> here on the WELL. Christian De Leon-Horton was raised by two skilled gardeners, and eventually attended an agricultural university where he graduated with a degree in orchard sciences. He intends to go into organic farming someday, but in the meantime served twice in Iraq with the US Army, where he learned in no uncertain terms that petroleum is a pretty poor basis for a world economy. Christian is glad that the Pentagon has clearly recognized that global climate change is an increasing threat to world security, even if a lot of elected leaders haven't quite caught up to that fact. He lives in a constant state of worry tempered by occasional optimism, since the technologies to get us out of this mess have mostly been invented already even if our political will hasn't caught up yet. Welcome to Inkwell, Eric and Christian!
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Wed 21 Jul 10 15:44
Hi Eric, and thanks so much for joining us on the WELL. I would like to begin by asking you why you felt the need to write this book. There are quite a few books out there about climate change, and even a few about what some call the "climate controversy." But I believe "The Climate War" is the first text that really goes behind the scenes to closely examine the motives and pesonalities of the most ardent climate change skeptics. Could you tell us a little about what you hoped to accomplish by telling this story?
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Thu 22 Jul 10 04:53
Hi Christian -- thanks so much for inviting me to do this. I'm an old WELL hand from the early 90s (epooley back then) and it is great to be with the community again. You are right -- there's no other climate book remotely like this one. I wrote it because I wanted to understand why it has been so very hard for the US to get serious about the climate crisis. I wanted to see if our broken political system could rise to meet the challenge. But I decided to do this through narrative nonfiction -- and write a character-driven political thriller about the people who are trying to push a serious carbon cap through the dysfunctional Congress, and the people who are trying to stop them. I worked on it full-time for about three years. I embedded with people and groups on all sides of the fight. I was with grassroots activists from Rising Tide North America--the kids who chain themselves to bulldozers to try to stop utilities from building coal-fired power plants. I was with green policy lobbyists from the Environmental Defense Fund and NRDC, especially EDF president Fred Krupp, a controversial figure in the environmental community because he is more willing than most to forge coalitions with business. I was with Al Gore and his Alliance for Climate Protection, behinds the scenes in Bali and Copenhagen. I was with Dr. Jim Hansen, the leading climatologist, and coal lobbyists from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, and professional deniers like Myron Ebell, and Obama advisers in the West Wing. And I was with Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, a mysterious and complicated figure who in the course of the book is playing every side -- he's for the cap, against the cap, for the cap. And I'm inside the room as Hansen and Krupp are debating the issues with Rogers and trying to get him on board for climate action, which they eventually do, with the flawed but serviceable Waxman-Markey climate bill last summer. Then the White House chose not to take a version of that bill to the Senate, and everything fell apart. Now, a year later, the Senate is about to declare defeat on yet another climate bill. Message: we have the policy tools and the technology to do this. We just don't have the political will. So my book turned into a whodunnit. Who Killed the Climate Bill? There are plenty of culprits.
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Thu 22 Jul 10 10:22
You've got a serious list of players here. Would it be possible to shine a light on who the villians of the piece are? Is there anyone you'd like to point out as the most effective derailers of serious climate change legislation?
. (wickett) Thu 22 Jul 10 15:42
I must quickly find and read this book. It utterly flummoxes me that the US cannot be rational and proactive about this issue.
John Payne (satyr) Thu 22 Jul 10 18:12
Is there anything to the notion that the climate war is part of a pervasive cultural war, or do opponents in one find themselves allies in the other?
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Thu 22 Jul 10 18:41
Thanks wickett, I'm flummoxed by that too -- been immersed in this issue for years and yet it still bedevils me that the US can't cope with the reality of climate change. Part of the problem is that the villains (to segue into echodog's question), are only part of the problem. A bigger part of it may be that our conventional approach to politics doesn't work here. Pricing carbon (through a cap or a tax), generates huge amounts of money, and suddenly each interest group at the table wants its cut, demanding everything it can possibly get and not cutting a deal unless it is paid handsomely. Future generations have no voice and no leverage in such a negotiation. Politicians trying to survive a two- four- or six-year political cycle have no apparent ability to work for the benefit of those who will be here long after they are gone--they're terrified of imposing the tiniest costs on their constituents. The professional deniers exaggerate those costs to frighten people and politicians, just as they sew doubt and confusion as to whether climate change is real. To get inside the forces of deny and delay, I hung out at a Denier's Convention organized by the 2008 Heartland Institute (anti-tax, pro-tobacco, pro=emissions. I didn't bother too much with the bogus scientific panels, I spent my time at their political threads, where they very openly described exactly how they were going to kill the climate bill, by claiming that global warming was an eco-Nazi plot to control the energy system and calling a mandatory cap on emissions a tax, tax, tax. Their leader was a man named Myron Ebell, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who toasted the crowd with Fiji Water ("the most politically incorrect water," he said with satisfaction) and styles himself a contrarian. What he is, of course, is a paid disinformation specialist. He was very frank about his role in the climate war. "This is a battle foe the heartland," he told me. "We've long since lost the coasts--we're never going to win over people in New York or San Francisco. But if we win the heartland, we win the war." Then there's the clean coal boys at ACCCE, who spend millions an ads to persuade people that they're fixing the carbon problem -- they're onnit -- when all they are doing is spending millions on ads. These are the guys who brought you the Clean Coal Carolers for Christmas 2008, singing lumps of coal ("Frosty the Coalman"). When Maddow first saw them, coffee came out of her nose. they're connected to the Greening Earth Society, which tried to persuade people that CO2 is good for the planet. "Every time you turn on your car, you're doing God's work," said one. You want villains? I got villains.
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Thu 22 Jul 10 18:46
satyr, very much a part of the pervasive culture war. Denying climate science is a cousin to denying evolution. Tea baggers hated the cap before they hated health care reform. Mistrust of Obama, big government, imposed regulatory solutions, and eggheaded elites are all very much a factor here. (Plus, it's the end times, so of course the world is heating up, right?) It's one big bubbling stew of hatred and grievance, and of course climate is right in the middle of it.
Charles R. Karish (karish) Fri 23 Jul 10 04:24
Thanks for visiting us, Eric! I find myself getting sucked into "The Climate War" more deeply than I remember for any current affairs book I've read since "Cadillac Desert" (for different reasons). You make the the players and the issues come alive. I stumbled across this a few evenings ago: <http://www.theamericanscholar.org/what-the-earth-knows/#more-7077> The author, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, says that since the Earth will not be permanently damaged by global warming there's nothing to worry about, and we probably can't stop it anyway. Thursday's news that the Democrats have decided not to pursue a climate bill this year caught me at a pessimistic moment. Many of us reacted with skepticism mixed with horror when Stewart Brand told us of his change of heart regarding nuclear power. He has a point, that there are still big holes in the story of how green energy sources can replace fossil fuels. (There are plenty of holes in the nuclear power story; fuel efficient technology won't be ready for a long time, the capital requirements are enormous, and all of us turn NIMBY when the subject of waste disposal comes up.) Can the world's governments change the direction of technology quickly enough to avert the worst of global warming? Amory Lovins published "Soft Energy Paths" in 1977. California is one of the few places where his ideas about reducing waste took strong hold in the first decade after that, even when the changes were economically attractive.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Fri 23 Jul 10 05:03
Not to distract, but this-- >The author, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, says that since the >Earth will not be permanently damaged by global warming there's >nothing to worry about, and we probably can't stop it anyway. is not exactly what Laughlin's article was about. Or at least not what I got out of it. Its subtitle was "The EArth Doesn't Care if you Drive a Prius," and it's an attempt to think about climate change from the perspective of geological time. Looked at this way, doing something about global warming may well be futile, but the even more important implication is that we shouldn't do it for the earth's sake, but rather for the sake of humanity. It's not the earth we're killing, in other words, but the earth as a home for us. But anyway, my question for you, Eric, is this. (And by the way, excellent book, you do keep the pages turning and the interest high. You've wrung high drama out of what is basically a wonkfest, and that's an accomplishment.) The tragedy (or is it farce) of the book is that cap-and-trade failed to pass into law. There are other ideas out there--carbon tax, clean energy development, bend over and kiss your ass goodbye, etc.--but the conflict at the center of the book is not among these ideas so much as it is about why cap and trade couldn't get through our system, particularly the senate. So you don't spend a lot of time explaining why cap-and-trade was a worthy cause in the first place. Waht I'm wondering, then, is why you think (or at least I surmise that you think) cap and trade is a good idea, or even the best one out there. I don't mean to ask for a defense of the idea. I'm more interested in how you arrived at the conclusion, since I'm sure you have thought about the alternatives. And I'll take my answer off the air.
Charles R. Karish (karish) Fri 23 Jul 10 07:43
Jeff Dooley (dooley) Fri 23 Jul 10 09:06
Eric, thank you for The Climate War. I have teenagers who are looking at me aghast and asking, why is the US unable to do the slightest thing about climate change? It isn't enoug anymore to just say that republicans would rather destroy their global habitat than start controlling carbon emissions. Your hard work sorting out the players and the strategies on both sides provides a more comprehensive answer to my kids than I ever could have on my own.
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Fri 23 Jul 10 13:43
Charles, I guess what I would say in response to Laughlin is that I agree with him on this count: what we are talking about here is the habitablity of the plant; this ol' world will keep spinning around whether we're here or not. His conclusion that we probably can't do anything about it seems defeatist to me. In fact, dressed up with a lot less knowledge and firepower, it's a central argument of the deny-and-delay crowd. (After they say it isn't happening, and then that it is happening but it isn't caused by man, they inevitably get to the maybe-it's-partly-caused-by-man-but-we-can't-do-anything-about-it place. Well, not if we don't try; that's for sure.) Certainly Laughlin is right that in the course of geologic time the earth's climate will go through natural variations, some of them extreme, that human activity doesn't cause and can't control. So what? The point of emissions reduction is to control what we can control, to avoid accelerating (and reaching irreversible tipping points) that destabilize this Goldilocks climate we've been enjoying. So saying that the climate system may one day in the distant future destabilize on its own does not lead me to think that humans should avoid destabilizing it now. We're always in such a hurry. Let's hang on to the Holocene if we can.
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Fri 23 Jul 10 14:04
Can we change in time to avert catastrophe? I'm not feeling very optimistic on the Friday after the Senate killed the latest (weak) climate bill. Our refusal to take the FIRST BABY STEP toward serious emissions reductions is incredibly damaging--not least because it risks wrecking the entire global deal, which is hanging by a thread anyway, and has been no better than semifunctional in large measure because -- you guessed it -- we never signed on in the first place. I'd like to speak to Gary's excellent question on air, bcs it is a really crucial one to think about right now. The US climate community fell into what I feel is an unhelpful argument about cap vs tax. I agree with Al Gore: we're going to need them both -- the countries that have actually reduced emissions tend to have both -- and they complement each other. The cap lets you monitor reductions and enforce compliance -- taxes don't -- and trading lets emitters smooth out costs. The tax beefs up the price signal. Together: pretty good team. So the real question is, which can we get first? For several years it looked like the cap was gettable, and I must confess a bias for action. I think the most important thing is to get started, even with a relatively weak set of targets if necessary, as long as the structure of the program is sound, and prove the Chicken Littles wrong. Then, when we change the politics by proving that clean energy is the high growth path, that it won't wreck the economy, we ratchet the targets down. I think we could have gotten a cap first, had Obama stepped up in 2009 and offered serious leadership on this issue. As I describe in the book, Gore sent Obama a confidential memo in early 2009 explaining why it was so crucial for the US to pass a cap before Copenhagen. But Obama chose not to drive the issue. And here we are. Still not getting started. No cap, and the idea of passing an energy tax seems even more remote. But if the cap lies in ruins now (and it feels that way today) and people want to make a run at the carbon tax next time. I'm with them. I'm also for intensive clean energy R&D funding, EPA regulation of carbon, and suing the bastards to shut down dirty coal plants. I think the gloves are going to come off now -- the mainstream enviros have been trying to collaborate with the utilities, and it didn't work. So now it's back to court.
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Fri 23 Jul 10 14:38
Do you really think lawsuits are going to work? Part of this cast villians must surely include previous Republican administrations who worked to pack the courts with justices friendly to the fossil fuel interests.
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Fri 23 Jul 10 16:33
Well, the fact is lawsuits have been working. It's not just courts, also plenty of action in front of Public Utility Commissions. Yeah, I know -- they're in the pocket of the utilities too, right? Yes, but roughly 100 new coal-fired power plants have been stopped by the Sierra Club and other groups fighting them in the courts and in front of the PUCs. EPA carbon regs are also key. Nobody would argue this is the best way to deal with the problem. But if The legislative branch is broken, we use the executive and judicial branches, the states, the cities, and the people. Emphasis on the people. I spend time in the book with these mostly young people from Rising Tide North America who chain themselves to bulldozers to fight coal plants. I really respect their stance.
Eric Mankin (stet) Fri 23 Jul 10 16:56
Regarding the sceptical Nobel Laureate - his latest book is The Crime of Reason and the Closing of the Scientific Mind
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Fri 23 Jul 10 23:54
Of course, the EPA carbon regulations are under attack by some in the legislative branch. Just last month Senate Republicans mounted an effort to strip those powers away from EPA. If they retake the Senate at some point, I'd bet that will be one of the first items on their agenda.
for dixie southern iraq (stet) Sat 24 Jul 10 04:37
Ask Senator Inhofe. It's all a hoax put together by corrupt scientists grubbing for grant money working with one-world socialists to take over the economy.
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Sat 24 Jul 10 05:35
EPA carbon regulations will be a huge battle next year, no question -- one of the main fronts in the climate war. That's why we need to celebrate and support the EPA--Alex Steffen has a good piece about it here: http://bit.ly/9Av8rp And of course the western front is California, where oil companies are trying to roll back AB32, the statewide cap. My climate friends in CA say the good guys are going to win this one, but no one is taking it for granted.
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Sat 24 Jul 10 05:35
Al Gore, from The Climate War: If the United States doesnt act, if the Senate defeats the legislation, that is an event horizon beyond which it is difficult to see. It may mean there is a fundamental flaw in the international political approach, but Im not sure there is a good alternative. The reality is so dire that a new plan would have to emergebut just now I cant imagine what it would be. The fact that this is extremely hard doesnt mean we should quit.
John Payne (satyr) Sat 24 Jul 10 07:45
Is there anything to be gained (by any identifiable interest group), in allowing the buildup of CO2 to continue unabated? Say that we are rapidly approaching an unstable condition which could result in either a new ice age or a new hothouse age. Who beneifts from the decision to go hothouse?
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Sat 24 Jul 10 09:27
I doubt anyone really benefits. Some of the most wealthy, however, may still find ways to be comfortable.
Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Sat 24 Jul 10 11:20
Laughlin has an amateur's knowledge of this stuff. After I read his excerpt I forwarded it to a friend who has been modeling unfamiliar climates for decades (and whose office happens to be a few hundred feet from Laughlin's). He may be interested enough to publish a response. I'll follow up with him soon.
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Sat 24 Jul 10 11:52
Actually, I would be very interested on Eric's take on the psychology of the climate villians that he studied at close range, so to speak. It's apparent that they are not long-range planners. But I have to wonder how many of them are actually true disbelievers in the climate disaster, and how many are simply greedy enough to believe they will be rich enough not to be affected.
Eric Pooley (ericpooley) Sat 24 Jul 10 15:23
>>I would be very interested on Eric's take on the psychology of the climate villains I can't pretend to know their motives; I can make some informed, observation-based theories, but (alas) I lack George W. Bush's ability to look people in the eye and see their souls. What I can say is that no one I met in the deniers' camp was obviously insincere. They appear to believe what they say they believe. I think many of them are true believers that climate change is a hoax. Some may just be doing it for the paycheck, but I think most derive their identities from it. In my experience most people like to be the heroes of their own movie; they either believe (or have mostly convinced themselves) that they are trying to save the world from a set of ruinous solutions to a problem that doesn't exist. Some of them must be totally bullshitting, but if so it's impossible to tell. Their facade never cracks. The Denialosphere is a fully self-sufficient parallel universe, and if you live inside it and only consume denier disinformation, I suppose, pretty soon it starts to seem compelling. My conclusion is that motive is overrated. What people do matters more than why they do it. Does Myron Ebell believe his own bullshit? Ultimately, I don't care.
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