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Wed, 2011-09-14 06:32Chris Mooney
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Want to Sway Climate Change Skeptics? Ask About Their Personal Strengths (And Show Pictures!)

Readers of my posts over the last half year will be familiar with the phenomenon of motivated reasoning, in which people’s subconscious emotional impulses lead them to respond, in a biased way, to information that challenges their deeply held beliefs and worldviews. We’ve been focusing on this so much because I believe it explains a great deal of what we here call climate change denial, and the resistance to inconvenient science (and inconvenient facts) in general.

One important researcher on motivated reasoning is Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan. In Mother Jones, I described one of his previous studies, demonstrating how motivated reasoning can lead to a “backfire effect” when people are confronted with politically inconvenient information:

Take, for instance, the question of whether Saddam Hussein possessed hidden weapons of mass destruction just before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. When political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler showed subjects fake newspaper articles (PDF) in which this was first suggested (in a 2004 quote from President Bush) and then refuted (with the findings of the Bush-commissioned Iraq Survey Group report, which found no evidence of active WMD programs in pre-invasion Iraq), they found that conservatives were more likely than before to believe the claim. (The researchers also tested how liberals responded when shown that Bush did not actually “ban” embryonic stem-cell research. Liberals weren't particularly amenable to persuasion, either, but no backfire effect was observed.)

So how do you persuade people, if not with factual corrections of the sort run by newspapers? That’s what a new paper by Nyhan and Reifler has undertaken to study.

Wed, 2011-09-14 06:15Steve Horn
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Seamless Transition: Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell Moves to BP America

Last week, BP America hired former Department of Defense spokesman, Geoff Morrell, as its head of communications.

The move sheds light on the central tenet of American national security policy dating back to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's not-so-well-known, but crucial 1945 meeting with then King of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud. That is, what Hampshire College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies, Michael Klare, calls a foreign policy of “Blood for Oil,” which was outlined in full as such vis-a-vis the 1980 “Carter Doctrine,” presented as part of President Jimmy Carter's 1980 State of the Union Address.

During that speech, Carter stated (emphases mine), 

Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

The Carter Doctrine made it clear that domination over the procurement of the resources of the Persian Gulf (a.k.a. oil) was a national security issue for the United States, and thus, an issue largely in the hands of the Pentagon.

A historical case study of the Carter Doctrine in action, predating its official announcement, is the BP-orchestrated 1953 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency/British MIcoup of then Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. Contemporary case studies include the current military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.   

The new job for Morrell, then, is less anything “new,” and more so, a textbook example of the revolving door and “blood for oil” in-action.

Mon, 2011-09-12 11:27Chris Mooney
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Memo to Rick Perry: Galileo Was a Liberal

Ever since the Republican presidential debate last week, science watchers have been shaking their heads over Rick Perry’s ridiculous invocation of Galileo Galilei to defend his denialist position on climate change.

Galileo got outvoted for a spell,” Perry said–presumably meaning to suggest that climate “skeptics,” too, will have their day in the sun (the sun that, thanks to Galileo, we know lies at the center of the solar system).

Not only is this junk history on Perry’s part. A more accurate analogy would liken today’s climate researchers to Galileo—delivering an inconvenient truth that some right wing ideologues (then and now) just can’t handle—and Perry to the Inquisition.

Let’s face it: In the context of his times, Galileo was a liberal. He was a fearless explorer of new knowledge, as well as a puckish challenger of assumed wisdom. He famously argued that science and religion don’t have to be in conflict—so long as religionists don’t insist on reading Scripture literally (as so many of Perry’s anti-evolutionist supporters today do).

So to find a conservative Texas governor, backed by the religious right, invoking this canonical questioner of authority is really precious.

But forget historical accuracy for a moment. Climate “skeptics” have long been invoking Galileo as their mascot, and the interesting question is why.

Wed, 2011-09-07 09:49Chris Mooney
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On Global Warming, the Tea Party is Worse than the GOP

There’s a fascinating new public opinion analysis out today from Anthony Leiserowitz and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. It looks at political divides and how they impact one’s views of the science, but with this new twist—Tea Partiers and Republicans are treated differently.

And look what results:

  • 53 percent of Republicans believe global warming is happening, but just 34 % of Tea Partiers.
  • 56 percent of Republicans, but 69 % of Tea Party members, say there is “a lot of disagreement” among scientists about whether global warming is happening.
  • Tea Party members are much more likely than Republicans (45 % to 20 %) to have heard of “ClimateGate.”
  • Staggering, but not surprising if you’ve been following my posts: “Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are ‘very well informed’ about global warming than the other groups,” according to the Yale study. “Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they ‘do not need any more information’ about global warming to make up their mind.”

In other words, Tea Party members are more extreme than Republicans in their rejection of the scientific consensus on global warming—simultaneously more wrong, and also more sure of themselves.

What’s up with that?

Wed, 2011-09-07 07:15Emma Pullman
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Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey on 'Ethical Oil' Ads

Dear Oprah,

I just don't know where to begin. 

I can't find my words because I respect you so much. You're a woman pioneer who has done much to advance the status of women globally. You've donated millions of dollars to various organizations, and have used your talk show to raise the profile of women's issues. Your philanthropy has funded projects like The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, and Women for Women International. You've also used your celebrity to raise awareness of environmental causes, notably the efforts to rebuild the Gulf. 

That's why I'm so stumped right now by your choice to feature ads from EthicalOil.org on your television network. 

I'm all about the work that you do, but the logic of promoting tar sands oil by appealing to our desire for women's liberation, our desire to help protect women in despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia, is deeply flawed and misguided. 

Mon, 2011-08-29 20:17Emma Pullman
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New Infographic Shows how Keystone Pipelines are ‘Built to Spill’

TransCanada claims their pipelines are the safest in the continent. And the State Department seems inclined to agree having released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline last week. They find that the pipeline poses “no significant impacts” to the environment, and advise the project move forward.

So what about the 12 spills along the Keystone I line in its first year of operation? Since commencing operation in June of 2010, the Keystone I pipeline has suffered more spills than any other 1st year pipeline in U.S. history.

In addition to a nasty spill record, the proposed Keystone XL will cross one of the largest aquifers in the world – the Ogallala – which supplies drinking water to millions and provides 30% of the nation’s groundwater used for irrigation. Pipeline construction will also disrupt 20,782 acres, including 11,485 acres of native and modified grassland, rangeland and pastureland, and pipeline construction will threaten sensitive wildlife and aquatic species habitats.

According to the EPAcarbon emissions from tar sands crude are approximately 82% higher than the average crude refined in the U.S. Given the extremely toxic nature of tar sands bitumen and the fact that Keystone is TransCanada's first wholly owned pipeline in the U.S., it seems reasonable to look to TransCanada's performance with Keystone I for clues on how it would manage Keystone XL.

And the clues are telling.

Mon, 2011-08-29 07:30Chris Mooney
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Number One Lesson *Not* To Take Away from Hurricane Irene

I was watching CNN this morning. I don’t know why—except that it was on in the gym at the hotel where I’m staying.

Pretty soon, I was arguing with the screen.

A narrative is developing in the media that Hurricane Irene was somehow “overhyped,” that politicians “cried wolf,” and then the devastating damage that was forecast didn’t appear. Piers Morgan, tonight, will supposedly head up a segment called “Hurricane Hype.”

Never mind that there’s more than enough disaster imagery to keep the cable news channels on the story 24-7. And never mind that the storm killed at least 27 people and has caused an estimated $ 7 billion in U.S. damage.

Nevertheless, somehow Irene still wasn’t damaging enough, and so we’re going to hear about how politicians were covering their $#^@, scaring people when they didn’t have to.

Not only is this idiotic—it’s downright dangerous.

Thu, 2011-08-25 23:19Emma Pullman
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Breaking: State Department Calls Keystone XL Environmental Impact "Limited," Ignoring Evidence

The State Department just released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The 27-page document does not flag any significant environmental concerns. The EIS suggests that construction of the pipeline as proposed is preferable to alternatives considered, including: not building the pipeline, rerouting the proposed location, and transporting the oil through alternative means.

In typical agency beurocratic-speak, the main alternatives are described as such:

  • No Action Alternative – potential scenarios that could occur if the proposed Project is not built and operated;
  • System Alternatives − the use of other pipeline systems or other methods of providing Canadian crude oil to the Cushing tank farm and the Gulf Coast market;
  • Major Route Alternatives − other potential pipeline routes for transporting heavy crude oil from the U.S./Canada border to Cushing, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast market.

None of the alternatives were considered by the State Department to be preferable to proposed construction.

Thu, 2011-08-25 07:31Chris Mooney
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Hurricane Irene, Climate Change, and the Need to Consider Worst Case Scenarios

In May of 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina, I wrote an article that nobody noticed. It was entitled “Thinking Big About Hurricanes: It’s Time to Get Serious About Saving New Orleans.” In it, I talked about how devastating a strong hurricane landfall could be to my home city:

In the event of a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane (with winds up to or exceeding 155 miles per hour), it’s possible that only those crow’s nests [of lakefront houses] would remain above the water level. Such a storm, plowing over the lake, could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2 or Category 3 storm (with winds up to about 110 miles per hour and a storm surge up to 12 feet). Soon the geographical “bowl” of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops—terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris.

Afterwards, the article was passed around furiously and I was hailed for having some sort of deep insight. I didn’t: The danger was staggeringly obvious and I was only channeling what many experts at the time knew.

Wed, 2011-08-24 05:00Steve Horn
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General Electric's Jim Cramer Heads to Midwest As Fracking Cheerleader

This article is cross-posted from the Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch

Today, CNBC’s Mad Money with Jim Cramer’s “Invest in America” series will take the show to a seemingly unlikely locale, a place many would consider the middle of nowhere – North Dakota.

Why North Dakota? Four words: The Bakken Shale Formation.

Referred to as “Kuwait on the Prairie” by The New Yorker in an April 2011 feature story and located predominately in northwest North Dakota, the shale formation possesses a vast amount of both oil and methane gas, gathered via the notorious fracking process. Recognizing the economic opportunities that the formation would present to fossil fuel corporations, the U.S. Energy Information Administration penned a report in November 2006 titled “Technology-Based Oil and Natural Gas Plays: Shale Shock! Could There Be Billions in the Bakken?”, highlighting them in some depth.

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